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AFSC: Ending Ferguson Violence Begins with Peace Education

PHOTO: AFSC Peace Education Director Joshua Saleem, front, with four students honored for their Peer Mediation Program work at Northwest Academy of Law in St. Louis. Photo courtesy of American Friends Service Committee.
PHOTO: AFSC Peace Education Director Joshua Saleem, front, with four students honored for their Peer Mediation Program work at Northwest Academy of Law in St. Louis. Photo courtesy of American Friends Service Committee.
November 21, 2014

ST. LOUIS - Many Missourians fear more violence is inevitable whether or not Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson is indicted in the shooting death of Michael Brown. That's why one group says giving today's teenagers conflict-resolution skills is the key to a calmer and more just society in the future.

Too often, said Joshua Saleem, who heads up the peace education program for the American Friends Service Committee in St. Louis, young people aren't given a voice when it comes to big issues such as income inequality and racial disparities.

"They've got the energy, they've got the ideas; they are in many ways thinking outside of the box when it comes to these problems," he said. "So, it's critical that we get their voice at the table."

Saleem said that in the wake of the violence that erupted in Ferguson after the Aug. 9 shooting death of Brown, an unarmed black teenager, many kids in the program just needed a chance to be heard.

"A lot of them voiced the feeling that just based on who they were, the color of their skin, the way they dress, they were viewed as suspects, they were viewed as dangerous people," he said. "So a lot of them voiced that frustration and just the desire to be seen as human beings."

The peace education program has both school-based and community-based outreach in the St. Louis area with a focus on conflict resolution, civic engagement and organizing skills. A decision about Wilson from the grand jury is expected any day. Ahead of that decision, Gov. Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency in Ferguson and deployed National Guard troops to the city.

More information is online at afsc.org.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO