The people of Ferguson, Missouri, are heading to the polls on Tuesday in a city-wide election that could help right some of the long-standing discriminatory practices that plagued the community for years. Three seats are currently up for election on the Ferguson City Council, which has historically been ran by Caucasian people, even though Ferguson is a predominantly African-American city. With none of the incumbents running, the community now has the chance to receive fairer representation in the city government.
Following the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, much has been made about Ferguson's systemic racism, from the disturbing Justice Department report on the practices of the police force to the pitifully low representation of African-Americans in the local government. Currently, the Ferguson City Council has just one African-American member — and five white members. The skewed representation is alarming considering more than two-thirds of the city's residents are black, yet have virtually no one to advocate for them at City Hall.
The sole African-American city councilor, Dwayne James, broke his silence in February, telling Al Jazeera America:
I think that it takes a lot of steps before you can actually heal. There is a lot of conversations that need to take place. There is a lot of investigation that needs to take place. We have to figure out what the wound actually is. What is the catalyst of that? And then go in and basically find … that problem and then work towards that problem, and then healing would actually happen. You can’t just put a Band-Aid on a wound and say, “All right, we're done.” No, we have to work through some issues. And as a nation, we have to work through those issues.
The three open seats were vacated by white council members. Now, residents have the opportunity to elect two African-Americans to the council; one black councilor is guaranteed, as the only two candidates in Ward 3 are African-Americans.
Although Ferguson has a chance to triple its current African-American representation on the City Council, local activists are worried about voter turnout, which has historically been incredibly low. Reuters reports that Ferguson's voter turnout has ranged from just 10 percent to 40 percent. "This is a step we need to get the city headed in the right direction," Patricia Bynes, a Democratic committeewoman for Ferguson Township, told the news source. "But we are dealing with a community that doesn't regularly vote."
Local activists have been working on get-out-the-vote initiatives, encouraging residents to register and cast their ballot come Election Day. "For all the people sitting on the sidelines and not getting out there to protest, this is their opportunity to turn out and do their voting," resident and activist Tony Rice told the Los Angeles Times.
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