Cheryl Corley

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First lady Michelle Obama returned to her hometown of Chicago yesterday. She told graduates of King College Prep High School that she understood the real story of their South Side neighborhood.

(SOUNDBITE ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRING IT ON HOME TO ME")

SAM COOKE: (Singing) Bring it on home to me. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

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The images from Baltimore of demonstrations, police in riot gear, looting and outbreaks of violence are familiar to some other cities after encounters with police ended in death for unarmed individuals — primarily black men.

Officials say what comes from those tragic encounters can be important lessons about policing and moving forward.

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Since August, several U.S cities have been at the center of protests about policing and race. Activists in Ferguson, Mo., demonstrated for months in the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old killed by a white police officer last summer. They also have demanded resignations and pushed for new laws in what organizers say is the start of a national movement for justice.

In the wake of fatal police-involved shootings, cities are looking for ways to institute police department reforms. A community policing program in Racine, Wis., calls for police officers to work out of people's houses in specific neighborhoods.

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Sigma Alpha Epsilon announced Wednesday a plan to eliminate instances of racial discrimination and insensitivity among its members nationwide. The fraternity's move follows the disbanding of its University of Oklahoma chapter for racially offensive actions.

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And we turn now to NPR's Cheryl Corley who is in Ferguson. She's been listening to reaction today. The mayor of Ferguson, James Knowles, held a news conference this evening. And Cheryl, what did the mayor say he's going to do in response to this report from the Justice Department?

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We go now to NPR's Cheryl Corley in Ferguson. She's been talking with residents in the neighborhood were Michael Brown was shot and killed last summer. And Cheryl, what are you hearing?

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Right next to the Chicago River on the city's North Side, Lathrop Homes, with its black, white and Latino residents, is considered the city's most diverse public housing.

It's also on the National Register of Historic Places. And with 925 low-rise units on about 30 acres, it's big. But these days, only a fraction of those apartments are occupied.

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This is the time of year when it's not uncommon to see big trucks barreling down highways and streets spreading road salt.

Steve Corsi, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, says that translates into high levels of chloride concentrations for rivers like the Milwaukee in Wisconsin or 18 other streams near urban areas in Illinois, Ohio, Colorado and several other states.

"At many of the streams, concentrations have now exceeded those that are harmful to aquatic life," he says.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Mike Brown. Mike Brown. Mike Brown. Not your enemy. We just want justice.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Burn this [bleep] down. Burn this [bleep] down. Burn this [bleep] down.

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