Ferguson, MO will now have three black members on the city council. African American representation has tripled. Calls for a local government and police force that reflects the racial make-up of its citizens were heard and answered as Ferguson voters went to the polls on Tuesday. About two-thirds of the town’s 21,000 citizens are black. Until Tuesday, five of six Ferguson City Council members were white.
It was the first municipal election in Ferguson since Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, on Aug. 9. The shooting sparked sometimes violent protests in the St. Louis area, and spawned a national "Black Lives Matter" movement to press for change in how police deal with local minorities. Wilson was never charged in the case.
Unofficial results showed that Wesley Bell defeated another black candidate to win in the 3rd Ward, which includes the apartment complex where Brown was killed. Ella Jones won the 1st Ward race, defeating another black candidate and two white candidates. Brian Fletcher, a former mayor who is white, won a 2nd Ward race against another white candidate.
Bell is a lawyer and a criminology professor who also serves as municipal judge in a neighboring town of Velda City. Jones, a business woman, had strong labor union support.
According to the St. Louis County Board of Elections, voter turnout was historic. Turnout in the 2013 municipal election was 17 percent for whites and 6 percent for blacks. Last year’s city election drew a dismal 13 percent of registered voters to the polls.
On Tuesday, however, numbers increased substantially from the previous election—12.3% to 29.4%--due to a strong get-out-the-vote effort from labor unions and other national organizations. Just 562 new voters were added to the rolls. In recent weeks, the focus shifted from new registration to getting those who are registered to vote. Voters braved heavy rains and thunderstorms which swept through the city most of the day.
A scathing report by the Dept. of Justice after the Brown shooting showed patterns of racial bias against African Americans, both within the police department and in the City. Reports of excessive police stops and exorbitant fines being charged to people of color for minor infractions, in addition to the Brown shooting, forced the resignation of Ferguson’s city manager, police chief and municipal judge.
Moving from protests to politics, there is hope that the new council members will help usher in a new Ferguson.
"This community came out in record numbers to make sure our voices were heard," said councilman-elect Bell. "When you have a community engaged, the sky is the limit."