By Julissa Catalan
The racial tensions in Ferguson, Mo., before and after the shooting death of Michael Brown are in large part due to the racial disparity between the general population and the local government and police force that rule over the St. Louis suburb.
The statistics are downright alarming.
How can a town that is 67 percent Black be properly represented by a city council that is 93 percent white, a police force that is 93 percent white, and a white mayor who “sees no racial divide”?
Fortunately, this may all change this spring, when the Black community in Ferguson perhaps will finally get a voice.
Currently, five out of six city-council members are white, but three of them are scheduled to vacate their seats in April.
As of now, there are eight candidates competing for those open seats, and four of them are Black.
Because both candidates for one of the seats are Black, Black representation on the council is guaranteed to double. The two remaining Black candidates are also battling for a single seat (against two white candidates); if one of them wins, the city council would suddenly triple its Black representation.
Either way, this will be a historic step for Ferguson, which has had only two Black council members in the city’s history.
The three council members not running for reelection are Kim Tihen of Ward 1, Tim Larson of Ward 2 and David Conway of Ward 3.
Tihen was one of four Ferguson police officers who charged a Black man with destruction of property for bleeding on police uniforms while they beat him. This information resurfaced when the U.S. Department of Justice began its investigation into the Ferguson Police Department’s practices.
Conway’s Ward 3 includes the street where Michael Brown was shot, but he insists he decided not to run before that incident. He referred to his time as a councilman as “very eye opening” and said new council members should be prepared for “a lot of tension.”
“They’re walking into a really tough spot. It’s going to be hard to gain the trust back with the people,” Conway told The Huffington Post.
He recommended that the new council members “engage in the community as much as you possibly can.”
Attendance at the most recently city-council meeting, in January, was low, and there is some concern that Black voters may not turn out for the polls.
“I don’t believe that the community is giving up,” said Adrienne Hawkins, one of the Black candidates. “I believe they are possibly losing hope that change is coming. That’s why I chose to run for city council. I don’t ever want any of our young people to lose hope.”
Hawkins became emotional as she continued: “We can’t give up even though we all are a little worn, but never tired. We have to keep fighting for change.”
The Ferguson City Council consists of six members plus the mayor. Two council members are elected from each of the three wards, for three-year overlapping terms. The positions are part time, and most members maintain a career outside of their council duties.