During a panel discussion Monday at Harvard University, Lezley McSpadden shared some big news with the audience. Michael Brown's mother may run for city council in Ferguson, Missouri, she told the audience, citing the need for someone to "do what's right by the community."
McSpadden became a national figure after her son was killed in 2014 by police officer Darren Wilson. Brown's death — the 18-year-old was shot while walking down the street unarmed — set off a wave of protests in Ferguson that lasted for months and became a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Brown's mother has been active in calling for justice and police reform in the wake of her family tragedy. According to her biography at American Program Bureau — an agency representing public speakers — McSpadden has spoken out "candidly and vocally on her mistrust for police and government officials and advocating reform including the resignation of the Ferguson police chief and mayor and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon."
In 2016, McSpadden appeared alongside several other "Mothers of the Movement" to endorse Hillary Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. But Monday marked McSpadden's first announcement that she is contemplating a bid for political office herself.
"We have to get behind people who look like us and get them in these elected seats so that they can really do what's right by the community, and I'm going to start with me by running for Ferguson City Council," McSpadden said, according to Mother Jones.
Many critics cited the lack of diversity — within the Ferguson police department and other government agencies — as one of the aggravating factors in Michael Brown's death. As Politifact pointed out at the time, most major networks reported extensively on the disproportionate representation of white officers in Ferguson following Brown's death. "You've got three black officers and 50 white officers with a town that is 67 percent African-American," Andrea Mitchell observed while acting as temporary host of Meet the Press.
And while things have definitely changed in the ensuing four years, Ferguson is far from full recovery. In 2016, the city council became majority-black for the first time in its history, a reflection of the success of Ferguson's protests. But the new slate of council members came under immediate fire with a lawsuit from the Justice Department, demanding Ferguson implement police reforms.
The lawsuit came after the council rejected the Justice Department's mandated reforms in a unanimous vote, 6 - 0. That vote in turn triggered protests from Black Lives Matter activists, many of whom voiced the belief that police reforms were a first important step towards desperately needed change.
"It's majority black, but it doesn't feel that way — it feels white-controlled," activist Tony Rice told the L.A. Times. Along with several other protestors, he showed up at a council meeting to make his disappointment in their vote known back in Feb. of 2016.
The city did eventually negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department, but implementation has not been a smooth road. Natashia Tidwell, the monitor appointed by the court to oversee reform, said in March that Ferguson needed to hire more staff in order to make the changes in an acceptably timely manner. According to Fox 2 News St. Louis, Tidwell said she has “concerns about the pace of implementation."
That would likely be the sort of concern McSpadden would take under consideration, should she join Ferguson's city council. Her announcement Monday garnered immediate applause from the audience at Harvard's Institute of Politics (IOP) discussion.
The Harvard Gazette's Clea Simon reports McSpadden commenting, "If I can make a difference, if I can help another mother, and share with them this journey, I feel a little bit better inside.” Based on the crowd's reaction, McSpadden has already made a difference.