Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Why Ferguson is Republican in a sea of Democrats

Black majority elects white Republican mayor

The tragic death of Michael Brown has focused attention on the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department’s lack of diversity.  Of the fifty-plus personnel there are only 3 black officers on the force.  It is further pointed out that the Police Chief is white as are the members of the Board of Education.  The Ferguson City Council is all white except for a single Hispanic councilman and the Mayor of Ferguson is a white Republican.  How is it that a town of 21,000 is ruled by whites while the population is 67 percent black?  It has to do with voter turnout.  Municipal elections in Ferguson are not held simultaneous with presidential elections, midterm or gubernatorial elections.  Elections to fill city positions are held at odd times other than November when, historically, turnout of registered voters runs under 12 percent.   While this election scheduling may be by design to suppress minority turnout the fact remains that all citizens have equal opportunity to exercise their voting franchise.  The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.  2014 Ferguson, Missouri is not Selma, Alabama or Tupelo, Mississippi of some Jim Crow yesteryear.  People put their lives on the line so that people of all color and creed have access today to the power of the ballot box.

In the last municipal election to fill government positions in Ferguson, Missouri a mere 6 percent of eligible blacks turned out to vote.  White participation wasn’t much better at 17 percent but it was enough to ensure that long-standing policies remain firmly in place.  These are the very policies that have brought about historic racial embitterment and the unrest we witness today.  You don’t like the make-up of your police force?  Change can be brought about at the ballot box.  You feel city government doesn’t understand your community?  You feel they give you no respect?  Change the government .  Run for office.  Vote. 

The black community of Ferguson has a comfortable voting majority.  African-Americans can largely determine how they are to be treated by their city officials.  The mayor of Ferguson, members of its city council, its Board of Education, its Police Chief can all reflect the vision and hopes of this community.  This is the power of democracy.  It is within reach.  Citizens of Ferguson need not march in the streets and plead for understanding and respect.  It is yours for the taking.  You can organize.  You can pick candidates from your community.  You can vote. 

If there is to be a lasting lesson learned from the untimely death of 18 year old Michael Brown it is that protest marching is no substitute for having the political power of being a voting majority.  If you don’t believe it just ask those who have been running the show all these years.  They will tell you.  They prefer being where they are right now rather than where you happen to be today – and any day of the week.

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