Ferguson Mayor Regrets 'Not a Racial Divide' Comments But Still Doesn't See One

By Chris Hoenig

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said he regrets telling MSNBC in August that there is “not a racial divide” in Ferguson, but he still doesn’t see one.

“I regret saying it because it’s an argument that’s difficult to have. Because, yes, there are racial divides in this country,” Knowles said in an interview with Al Jazeera America’s America Tonight. “There are divides between men and women. And I was defensive. I took the stand that I felt somebody was attacking what I knew to be a good community who embraced diversity, who loved our neighbors. I’m obviously very, very much regretting having said that, but I think people, again, need to recognize that those divides, those differences [doesn’t] mean this community didn’t have good race relations before this happened.

“My point was we don’t see that play out in Ferguson. We do not see white residents and African-American residents looking at each other with a cautious eye or scared of each other on a daily basis.”

Knowles tried to highlight Ferguson as a bastion of diversity.

“We’re a community that really kind of bucked the trend when it came to white flight,” Knowles said. “If you look at the neighboring communities around Ferguson, they’re all between 90 to 95 [percent], some of them are actually 100 percent African-American. Ferguson’s only 67 percent and that’s really because you do have a large number of white residents who stayed and really were happy with the diversity, Embraced the diversity. So for me to see this happen to our community, it took a lot of us by surprise really.”

But Ferguson’s “embracing of diversity” has only led to a complete breakdown in the city’s diversity management.

Percentage of Statewide Population10.9%82.8%
Percentage of Ferguson Population63.0%33.7%
Percentage of Ferguson Police Department6.0%93.0%
Percentage of Ferguson City Council7.0%93.0%
# of Members on Ferguson School Board0/76/7
Traffic Stops4,632686
Search Rate12.13% of traffic stops6.85% of traffic stops
Contraband Hit Rate21.71% of searches34.04% of searches
Disparity Index*1.370.38

*Disparity Index = proportion of stops/proportion of population. A disparity index of 1 indicates no disparity exists. An index above 1 means a demographic is stopped at a greater rate than its proportion of the population, while an index below 1 means a demographic is stopped at a lesser rate than its proportion of the population.

The man leading that 93-percent-white police force, Chief Tom Jackson, has come under fire for his lack of leadership and mismanagement of the protests following Brown’s killing. But in the Al Jazeera interview, Knowles gives Jackson a resounding vote of confidence.

“I think the chief has done a tremendous job. I think that the chief is probably the person that could lead us through,” he said. “I think the chief is the person who would be committed to making the necessary changes and improvements in our department because he already has done a great deal. [He] really has shaken things up. He was the first person to promote an African-American, and promoted two to supervisor positions, and has really worked hard to make the department more diverse.”

Instead of racial division and tension in the city, Knowles said Ferguson’s biggest problems are more cosmetic.

“On a daily basis, we sit in this City Council chambers and I heard about potholes. I hear about complaints about the neighbor’s tall grass, dogs running loose, kids running through people’s yards,” he said. “Never once did it cross my mind that there was such fervor about an issue.”

It was on one such type of calla complaint about derelict vehicles in a resident’s yardthat killer cop Darren Wilson warned a resident that he would “lock your ass up” for videotaping their encounter, it was revealed this week. Wilson did ultimately arrest the man for refusing to comply with his orders to turn off the camera, but the charges were later dropped. The confrontation happened less than a year before Wilson killed Michael Brown.

Knowles said he has not spoken with Wilson and doesn’t know what he “would say to him at this point,” and isn’t hoping for any particular decision from the grand jury.

“I don’t care one way or the other what the outcome is, as long as it’s the legal and fair outcome under the law,” he said. “Whatever happens, my hope is that we can move forward as soon as possible on the healing, because an enormous number of things have come to light. And we need to be having conversations about those issues, too. If there’s more protests that can become unruly or become violent, that’s going to take away from the opportunity here to make lasting change to keep things like this from happening in the future.”

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