WIS Perspective: Jack Kuenzie on growing up near Ferguson

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Until I moved to South Carolina, I'd never lived in one place longer than Florissant, Missouri.

It's the city on the other side of I-270 just north of Ferguson.

My house was four miles from that now-incinerated Quik Trip on West Florissant Avenue.

What I've watched play out over the last five days has brought back a lot of memories.

And some sobering reminders of how much has changed and how some things are pretty much the same.

Could those people and those SWAT teams really be doing battle on a road where I learned to drive?

Could the backdrop for these scenes possibly be a few blocks from the park where my dad taught me how to fish and ice skate?

The same community I cruised in my mom's '65 Corvair, where I picked up my prom date and met with a Navy recruiter after my draft number came up?

Shockingly, they were.

Studying news footage, I recognized streets and buildings I hadn't thought about in decades.

As reporters watching the unrest there began talking about circumstances surrounding the shooting of Mike Brown and reaction by Ferguson police, I started to hear other echoes from the past.

Concerns in my neighborhood about integration and busing in the 1960's.

The delight we experienced at McCluer High when we realized our new black classmate Charlie, was actually a cool guy and not at all threatening.

And, many years after my move south, the stories I did in Columbia as then-police Chief Charles Austin began moving the city in 1990 toward the concept of community-oriented policing.

Decentralizing the department, setting up sub-stations, holding meetings.

Building contact and cooperation between officers and the people they serve.

Many law enforcement veterans say creating relationships and paying attention to issues including diversity remain critical to keeping the peace when flashpoints inevitably occur.

"A lot of times you look just at the uniform," Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said. "If that person in that uniform looks like you, then you automatically think you know what? I can relate to them. I can build a relationship. And you can start that dialogue to build a relationship. If you don't talk with each other, you'll never have a relationship."

A lesson learned the hard way in the place where I came of age and one worth remembering as the years go by.

The police response in Ferguson has generated increasing controversy over what many refer to as the militarization of local police forces.

That issue the use of armored and mine-resistant vehicles and military assault weapons may also spill over to the Midlands.

Columbia and Richland County both have armored vehicles.

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