The fatal police shooting of Michael Brown last year in Ferguson, Mo., and the unrest that followed has transformed a flyover, no interest St. Louis suburban election on Tuesday into one under a national media microscope.
Candidate yard signs have been up for weeks in the competition for the three open seats on the City Council. Ferguson with 21,000 residents is 67 percent black, but only one of the six persons on the City Council is African American and only four of the 54 officers in the Police Department is black.
That extreme imbalance came under intense scrutiny when then-Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot to death 18-year-old Brown, who was black, on Aug. 9. Protests have been ongoing, some violent.
A state grand jury declined to file charges against Wilson. The Justice Department, which also was investigating the shooting, didn’t file civil rights violation charges in Brown’s death.
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But the Justice Department in a separate investigation of the Ferguson Police Department issued a report, saying African Americans’ constitutional rights were routinely violated, enabling the city to use its black population as a revenue stream. Racial profiling resulted in tickets and fines imposed on African Americans, often crippling residents financially.
Poor black voter participation and few black candidates running for office was partly seen as a cause of the abuse African Americans suffered. Voter registration drives began after Brown’s death, and African American candidates filed for open seats. As a result, the number of blacks on the council could double.
But that’s still only two of the seven positions. It is being viewed, however, as a modern-day civil rights gain.
In the races, four of the eight candidates for three open seats are African Americans, The New York Times reports. Once seated, the council will have to pick a new city manager, police chief and municipal judge.
They all resigned after the Justice Department’s report was released last month, and they needed to go because they oversaw the system that oppressed the majority of people that city was supposed to serve.