Ferguson triples number of blacks on City Council

2015-04-08 21:43
Police guard the Ferguson police department as rioting erupts following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case. (Scott Olson, AFP)

Police guard the Ferguson police department as rioting erupts following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case. (Scott Olson, AFP)

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Ferguson - Two black candidates have been elected to the Ferguson City Council, tripling African-American representation in the St Louis suburb where poor race relations have been a focal point since a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man.

The election means that half of the six-member city council in Ferguson, a town where two-thirds of the 21 000 residents are black, will now be African-American. The lone black incumbent councilman was not up for re-election. The mayor, who could break any tie votes, is white.

Despite stormy weather, voter turnout increased substantially from the previous election following a strong get-out-the-vote effort. The town that drew only 12.3% of registered voters last April had 29.4% turnout on Tuesday. That was about double the overall turnout in St Louis County.

Voting at the First Presbyterian Church of Ferguson, Charrolynn Washington said the election is where real change will begin.

"As much change is needed here in Ferguson, this is where we begin - not out there in the streets, doing what they were doing - but, right here," Washington said. "They need to be voting and putting people in position to make the change and make the decisions that need to be made."

Unofficial results showed that Wesley Bell defeated another black candidate to win in the 3rd Ward. Ella Jones defeated another black candidate and two white candidates in the 1st Ward. Brian Fletcher, a white former mayor, won a 2nd Ward race against another white candidate.

"This community came out in record numbers to make sure our voices were heard," said councilman-elect Bell, calling the election part of a healing and rebuilding process.

It was the first municipal election since officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown on August 9. The shooting sparked sometimes violent protests and spawned a national movement to press for change in how police deal with minorities. A St Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Wilson.

The US Justice Department also decided not to prosecute Wilson, who resigned in November. But the department faulted the city for racial bias and profiling in the police department and a profit-driven municipal court system, prompting several city officials to resign.

The new city council will be tasked with approving hiring of their replacements.

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