Civil rights groups push Ferguson to the polls

FREDDIE ALLEN | 9/8/2014, 10:14 a.m.
In the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, Black teenager by a White police officer in ...
Duane Merrells walks with an upside down flag in a protest Aug. 18, for Michael Brown, who was killed by police Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Missouri. Charlie Riedel

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed, Black teenager by a White police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and the social and political unrest that followed, civil rights leaders have urged citizens of the St. Louis County suburb to transform their community at the ballot box.

The revelation that Ferguson, a town that’s nearly 70 percent Black, was represented by a White Republican mayor and a City Council that was more than 80 percent White, shocked outsiders and many believed the lack of political voices contributed to the largely non-violent protests that erupted in Ferguson. Darren Wilson, the six-year veteran police officer who shot and killed Brown on Aug. 9, serves on a Ferguson police department that is more than 90 percent White.

“What is troubling about Ferguson is the lack of voting representation of African Americans within that government and that has to change,” said Barbara Arnwine, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law.

Less than 12 percent of eligible voters in Ferguson casted ballots in 2013.

“Turnout is especially low among Ferguson’s African American residents, however. In 2013, for example, just 6 percent of eligible Black voters cast a ballot in Ferguson’s municipal elections, as compared to 17 percent of white voters,” according to ThinkProgress.Org.

Even the voter turnout rates for the national midterm elections in 2010, which are usually lower than the turnout numbers for presidential elections, were nearly nine times higher than Black voter turnout in Ferguson, Missouri, during the last election cycle.

According to The Associated Press, Blacks outvoted Whites in both 2008 and 2012.

“We are all wholeheartedly committed to making sure that political power, meaning voting, by people of color in the city of Ferguson becomes a vital energetic and strong reality and that the next election, including November 2014, will see a new day in African American voter turnout and participation,” Arnwine said.

After President Obama drew sharp criticism from political pundits on the right and the left for his response to the killing of Brown, and the disconcerting images of St. Louis County police firing rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters, Pamela Meanes, the president-elect of the National Bar Association, said that Obama can’t win for losing.

“If he was too passionate, individuals would say, ‘he’s [interfering] with the investigation,’” Meanes explained. “If he’s too calm, people would say, ‘he’s not passionate enough.’”

Meanes added: “The real issue is whether or not his words touched the people of Ferguson. I think they did.”

Last week, more than a dozen civil and human rights groups released a statement and list of recommendations for community stakeholders, law enforcement officials and lawmakers in an effort to address the killing of Black men at the hands of police officers across the nation.

The group called for “an independent and comprehensive federal investigation by the Department of Justice of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri.”