Ferguson, Mo., One Year Later: Has Much Changed
By Sheryl Estrada
A small, predominantly black St. Louis suburb, Ferguson, Mo., has been at the heart of national debates on race and sparked civil unrest against police brutality following the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014.
Brown’s death, and public outcries for justice when Wilson, who resigned, was neither charged nor indicted by a grand jury, galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement. The grassroots movement reportedly has been monitored by Homeland Security since August.
Almost 70 percent of Ferguson’s residents are black. And prior to public demonstrations, attention was not given to racial disparity in local government. Predominantly white officials and a police department that is absolutely not diverse were running Ferguson.
The city was at a tipping point when former Attorney General Eric Holder first announced an investigation into the Ferguson Police Department after visiting the community in August. He heard directly from residents about police practices and their lack of trust in law enforcement.
Changes in the city’s governing were not an option and accelerated after the results of a federal probe.
The Ides of March
March 4: Holder announced the Department of Justice’s findings on two civil rights investigations related to Ferguson. An investigation into the fatal shooting of Brown did not support federal civil rights charges against Wilson. However, it was revealed the Ferguson Police Department and the municipal Court violated constitutional rightsby engaging in a broad pattern of racially biased enforcement that permeated the city’s justice system, disenfranchising black residents. This includes the use of unreasonable force against black suspects.
March 6: Municipal Court Clerk Mary Ann Twitty was fired for routine racist emails and making sure her colleagues and associates did not have to pay fines and citations.Ferguson Police Capt. Rick Henke and Sgt. William Mudd, also in connection to racist emails, both resigned.
March 9: Municipal court judge, Judge Ronald Brockmeyer, was named in the investigation for abusive fines and excessive jail sentences and also resigned.
March 10: Ferguson City Manager John Shaw resigned, and the city council unanimously approved what it called a mutual separation agreement. Shaw supported revenue generation for the City of Ferguson through the use of aggressive fines and court penalties.
March 11: Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson resigned, which the city referred to as a “mutual decision.” Jackson was criticized nationally for defending his officers and his department’s handling of protests after Brown’s death.
April: Ferguson City Council Changes
Voters made a historic change to the Ferguson City Council.
Five of the six members of the city council were white until April. As three of the white council members decided not to run for re-election, voters added two more black members. The council is now the most diverse it has ever been.
Voter turnout was reported at 30 percent. According to St. Louis Public Radio, voter turnout “surpasses recent municipal elections in Ferguson and nearly doubles the roughly 16 percent turnout in the rest of St. Louis County.”
“We knocked on doors,” said Wesley Bell, a newly elected city council member. “We were all about community outreach and staying positive. And it brought out the highest turnout in the history of Ward 3. That’s what I’m most proud about that we reached out to citizens. Residents who have not felt a part of the process.”
June: New Interim City Manager, New Municipal Judge, Mayor Stays
The Ferguson City Council chose two black men to fill leadership positions on June 9. Ed Beasley was appointed as the interim city manager. Two others have served as interim city manager since Shaw resigned. City officials will continue to search for a permanent replacement.
Judge Donald McCullin is the new municipal judge. He replaced Judge Roy Richter who was appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court to handle Ferguson cases after Brockmeyer resigned. However, McCullin is age 74, and, under Missouri court-retirement rules, he must step down when he turns 75.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, who said he regrets telling MSNBC in August that there is “not a racial divide” in Ferguson, yet still doesn’t see one, has survived this year’s changing of the guards.
A petitionseeking to recall the mayor was stalled in June when, according to NBC news, “more than half the signatures were reportedly disqualified.”
July: Interim Police Chief Named
On July 22, the new interim Ferguson police chief, Andre Anderson, was announced at a press conference. Anderson, the first black man in the position, was serving as commander of the Glendale, Ariz., police department. His appointment will last for at least six months. However, the police force continues to be majority white.
It remains to be seen if City of Ferguson personnel changes will have a positive impact.
According to the New York Times, “People say they feel just as estranged from the police as they did a year ago, just as skeptical of this city’s leaders black or white.”
“This was a real tearing of the fabric,” Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, said. “A lot of pent-up frustration has now really come forward, and that doesn’t get well in 12 months. This isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s not even going to be over 365 nights. It’s going to be years.”