Friday, August 15, 2014

Calm in Ferguson, and why their government is so white

Cooler heads and all that.

County police in riot gear and armored tanks gave way to state troopers walking side-by-side with thousands of protesters, as the St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black teen was shot by a city police officer overwhelmingly avoided violence Thursday after nearly a week of unrest and mounting public tension.

The dramatic shift came after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon assigned oversight of the protests to the state Highway Patrol -- stripping local police from the St. Louis County Police Department of their authority -- after four days of clashes with furious crowds protesting the weekend death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

"All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas," said Pedro Smith, 41, who has participated in the nightly protests. "This is totally different. Now we're being treated with respect."

Obama did step up, but more importantly so did Governor Nixon (who, it is worth noting, is a Democratic governor in a red state).

But the latest protests had a light, almost jubilant atmosphere among the racially mixed crowd, more akin to a parade or block party. The streets were filled with music, free food and even laughter. When darkness fell —the point at which previous protests have grown tense — no uniformed officers were in sight outside the burned-out QuikTrip convenience store that had become a flashpoint for standoffs between police and protesters.

"You can feel it. You can see it," protester Cleo Willis said of the change. "Now it's up to us to ride that feeling."

Nixon appointed Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is black, to lead the police effort. Johnson, who grew up near Ferguson and commands a region that includes St. Louis County, marched alongside protesters Thursday, joined by other high-ranking brass from the Highway Patrol as well as the county department. The marchers also had a police escort.

"We're here to serve and protect," Johnson said. "We're not here to instill fear."

Several people stopped to shake hands and even hug Johnson and other officers, thanking them by name. At one point, Johnson spoke to several young men wearing red bandanas around their necks and faces. After the discussion, one of the men reached out and embraced him.

Race crisis averted.  For the time being, anyway.  (By the way, the tense local situation with regard to Open Carry Texas in the Fifth Ward has also been back-burnered.)

Now about that Ferguson government: we already knew that part of the underlying problem was a 94% white police force in a 67% black suburb of St. Louis -- which is, shockingly, average for the US --  but what about the elected officials?  Why is it that five out of six city council members, and mayor, are Caucasian?

Is it gerrymandering?  Voter suppression, perhaps?

Why no.  It's abysmally low voter turnout, of course.

Ferguson, Missouri, is 67 percent black, but only one of six council members is black and the mayor is white. So is the chief of police. This demographic discrepancy is one of the reasons the black community in the St. Louis suburb has felt misrepresented by its local government.

But how is that disparity possible? If two-thirds of the city is black, shouldn't there at least be more black council members?

The problem, MSNBC reports, is low voter turnout. "No one collects data on turnout by race in municipal elections. But the overall turnout numbers for Ferguson's mayoral and city council election are discouraging," writes MSNBC's Zachary Roth. "This year, just 12.3 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, according to numbers provided by the county. In 2013 and 2012, those figures were even lower: 11.7 percent and 8.9 percent respectively. As a rule, the lower the turnout, the more the electorate skews white and conservative."

This is your wakeup call for November 2014, people.  And by 'people', I mean every single person in Houston, in all of Texas, in Ferguson and Missouri, and the thousands of towns and cities in the remaining 48 states who typically vote in presidential years and -- for reasons understood only by them -- do not in midterm elections.

Also known as Democrats, but other assumed names include 'liberals' and 'progressives'.  A whole lot of shit in this state and nation -- not all of it certainly, but a lot -- could be fixed if just a small percentage of the vast number of MIAs would simply show up at the polls.  Why, we might even avoid having to watch Barack Obama endure an impeachment proceeding.  Could possibly still have a Democratic US Senate.  Hope beyond that, a statewide official elected in Texas who is not an extremist Republican.  One would be a blessing, more than one would be cause for rejoicing.

If you're already planning on voting, then it's your neighbors who need to be reminded.

There's still time to fix things.  But everybody has to pitch in.

More from Slate and the Field Negro.


Gadfly said...


I noted this a bit yesterday and will have a bigger piece next week more directly on this issue, and it relating to Democratic minority groups looking to Washington for too long on the electoral issue.


That's as opposed to at least one turdhead Kossack who was trying to blame special dates for local elections, and the many others who agree with him.

Gadfly said...

Oh, and per my blog post to be, I don't totally agree with Slate on the WHY of low turnout. Black turnout nationally has caught up with white in the past two presidential elections, so it's not low turnout in general, it's that minority Democrats look too much to DC, and above all, too much to presidential races.