A month after an unarmed black teenager was viciously shot and killed by a white police officer, the city of Ferguson held its first city council meeting since the incident. On Tuesday night, at a local church, over 600 people attended the meeting to voice their frustration and anger about what they perceive is a lack of justice for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot by Officer Darren Wilson. Residents wanted to know why, a month after the tragedy, Wilson still has not been charged with any crime and is walking the streets. Additional outrage was expressed over the lack of African-Americans in government and administrative positions, harassment of poor, black residents by police and inequitable fines and fees levied on the poorest members of the community by the city.
Prior to the meeting, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and the council announced reforms to the way the city handles warrants, fines and arrests. The changes include a cap on the amount of revenue the city can collect on court fines. If court fines are more than 15% of the total city revenue, then any additional money will go towards special community projects instead of going towards the city’s general fund. A number of fees have been eliminated, such as a warrant recall fee, a towing fee and a ‘failure to appear’ fee. These fees had been criticized both locally and nationally as ways the city profited off and victimized the poor. The council also got rid of the separate ‘failure to appear’ offense for people who didn’t show in court for ordinance violations.
Ferguson city officials were hoping this announcement would quell any anger from residents ahead of the council meeting. However, they were sadly mistaken. While residents are appreciative of some progress being made in the community, there is still a lot of frustration and disgust with the current city government. They also wanted to use this meeting as not only a chance to voice their outrage but to perhaps get some questions answered directly by the mayor and council. Knowles made the fatal mistake of telling the crowd that once they got to the public comments portion of the meeting, city officials would not be answering any questions. This caused the crowd to react angrily, with catcalls towards the stage exclaiming, “Shut it down!”
Even though residents and people from surrounding communities knew they wouldn’t get any questions answered, they still lined up at the microphone to make themselves heard. The vast majority of the comments were heavily critical of the way the city is run, whether it is police mistreatment of black residents, lack of diversity within government offices or the response from the city in the wake of the Brown murder. While there was an occasional call for appeasement from a commenter, mostly people took the mic in order to vent their frustration at what they see as a blatantly racist system in place.
Discontent was probably heightened by the presence of Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson. While Jackson didn’t make any comments and wasn’t available for questions, he was at the meeting for ‘security purposes.’ Currently, the very sight of Jackson brings out high levels of annoyance and revulsion among town residents. The man who is the very symbol of police malfeasance and racist behavior casually strolling through a council meeting was likely enough to make many a person’s blood boil Tuesday night. Just days ago, it was revealed that he lied about why he released the videotape of Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store. The release of the tape helped reignite tensions in Ferguson.
At the end of the meeting, Knowles was reprimanded by the pastor of the church where the meeting was held. As Knowles walked off the stage, L.O. Jones, pastor of the Greater Grace Church, told the mayor that even children demand an answer when they ask questions and get angry when they are provided none. Per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jones then told Knowles the following:
“You didn’t answer any questions tonight. Let’s be honest. It’s time for change.”
Truer words have never been spoken. In the wake of Brown’s killing, activists, community leaders and organizations have gathered in an effort to mobilize, energize and educate the people of Ferguson regarding the political process not only in their town, but statewide and nationally. During the height of protests in the days after Brown’s death, voter registration booths were set up on the streets. Currently, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French has an office open on W. Florissant Ave., where most of the Ferguson protests have taken place. His organization, #HealSTL, will canvass Ferguson neighborhoods to register voters and inform them of upcoming elections. He will also look to engage younger residents to get more involved in their community.
While the national media has moved on from Ferguson due to the lack of violence and militarized police presence now, activists and residents are still demonstrating and making their voices heard. A group of protesters left Ferguson Wednesday morning by bus to head to Jefferson City, the state capital of Missouri. They have planned a Ferguson Advocacy Day and want the state’s government officials to see and hear their demands for justice. There is also talk of a highway protest Wednesday afternoon, where protesters will shutdown a local highway for a few minutes in remembrance of Michael Brown.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).