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A New Day for Ferguson, Missouri

Ella Jones Wins Election as Ferguson, Missouri’s First Black and Female Mayor—Congratulations! June 9, 2020

Yes, much of the news after the brutal Minneapolis, MN police murder of African American George Floyd has been awful. While many peaceful demonstrations have occurred throughout the nation, looters have caused far too much havoc. Our “Supreme Leader,” authoritarian wannabe Donald, has taken a blowtorch to both the Constitution and his fellow citizens he “claims” to govern. He has uttered provocative racist phrases and viciously yelled at governors trying to keep the peace. “I could care less about civil liberties” Donald made sure that peaceful D.C. demonstrators were fired on with tear gas so that he could have an absurd photo op in front of famous St. John’s Church awkwardly holding a Bible, a book Mr. “Two Corinthians” has never read and certainly does not understand. However, most of this nation is horrified by his behavior. He has been rightfully condemned by both Episcopal and Catholic clergy in D.C. and other religious leaders nationwide. Many police officers have joined demonstrators by kneeling and hugging them throughout the nation. Much of white America is beginning to understand how too many times blacks have been mistreated by the police solely because of the color of their skin.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden eloquently spoke against Trump’s horrible behavior during these times. He promised, “I won’t traffic in fear and division. I won’t fan the flames of hate. I’ll seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued our country, not use them for political gain.” In a challenge to all Americans, Biden added, “Is this what we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren—fear, anger, finger-pointing, rather than the pursuit of happiness? Incompetence and anxiety, self-absorption, selfishness? Or do we want to be the America we know we can be, the America we know in our hearts we could and should be (cnn.com, Bradner, E., 6/02/20)?” Many pundits “discovered” that Biden had found his voice, IMHO, a voice he has never lost.

Yes, Biden’s stirring words and those by many in the military condemning Donald’s actions give us hope. However, something even more hopeful occurred on 6/02/2020 in a nation wracked by racial turmoil. On that very date, where many political contests were held throughout the country, City Councilwoman Ella Jones won her race as Mayor of Ferguson, Missouri. Her election occurred while that city held protests over Floyd’s murder and a state of emergency and curfew were invoked there (nytimes.com, Medina, 6/03/20). Jones becomes the first woman and African American to win that post in a city that was torn by racial violence after the 2014 fatal shooting of a young black by a white police officer. That shooting made Ferguson notorious, and gave force to the Black Lives Matter movement that strongly challenges police misconduct against African Americans (nytimes.com, Medina, J., 6/03/20 ,2014, Yancey-Bragg, N., usatoday.com, 6/03/20, stltoday.com, 6/03/20, Schlinkmann). Let’s look at Ferguson, MO and its Mayor-elect Ella Jones.

Ferguson, MO, founded in 1855, has a current population of 21,000 and is located about 10 miles up Interstate 70 from St. Louis’ famous Arch. Ferguson is part of St. Louis County (booksgoogle.com, Fox, T., 1995, Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac). Emerson Electric’s headquarters are located in Ferguson (fortune.com, 8/18/14, Snyder, AP, 11/24/14). Currently, two-thirds of Ferguson’s population is African American and it is part of MO’s 1st Congressional District (CD) represented by black Cong. Lacy Clay with a Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of D+29 (Cohen & Cook, 2020 Almanac). However, until the 1960’s, Ferguson was a “sundown town” where African Americans were not allowed to remain after nightfall. After the 2000 U.S. Census, blacks became the majority (latimes.com, Pearce, M. 4/05/17, Fowler, D., 7/28/15, asanet.org).

In 2014, although Ferguson was majority black, the white minority had kept control of the local government and the police department. The local government was funded by fines and fees imposed on the mostly black population. The entire Ferguson municipal structure had an incentive to oppress African American residents (See latimes.com, 6/04/20). On 8/09/2014, African American Michael Brown (18) was fatally shot by white Ferguson Police Department Officer Darren Wilson. Brown, unarmed, had been videotaped a short time earlier with a friend in a local convenience store, apparently stealing cigars. The next day, 8/10/14, the county police chief said that Brown had assaulted Wilson. The incident sparked acts of looting of businesses, arson, vandalism, and violent clashes between protestors and police. Police used tear gas and arrested dozens of protestors. On 8/18/2014, Gov. Jay Nixon called in the MO National Guard. There were widespread cries for investigating the incident. A fragile calm was eventually restored until 11/24/14 when the county prosecutor announced that the grand jury had decided not to indict Officer Wilson. Peaceful protests as well as rioting followed (Cohen & Cook 2020, star-telegram.com, Scher, Z.A., nytimes.com, Davey, Eligon, & Blinder, 8/20/14, Darcy, theblaze.com, 11/25/14). On 3/04/2015, the U.S. Justice Department, after conducting its own investigation, cleared Officer Wilson of violation of civil rights in the shooting and concluded that he had acted in self-defense (latimes.com, Phelps & Muskal, 3/04/15). However, on 6/20/2017, the City of Ferguson’s insurance company paid Brown’s family $1.5 million (webarchive.org, 6/23/17). On 5/09/2016, Delrish Moss of Miami, FL was sworn in as Ferguson’s first African American police chief and stated he planned to diversify the police force and improve community relations (AP, 5/09/16). In 2016, the Justice Department reached a consent decree that required Ferguson to make significant changes. These included municipal court reforms, community policing efforts, hiring more minority officers, and improved policies in areas such as use of body cameras and search and seizure practices (usatoday.com, Yancey-Bragg, N, 6/03/20). Since the 2014 Ferguson killing of Brown and the subsequent riots, black political influence has steadily increased. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “in 2014, there was just one black council member. Now (at the time of Jones’ election), there are four out of six, including Jones, who will move up soon to the mayor’s seat.” And in 2015, the MO legislature enacted a law to curb the use of traffic fines as a revenue stream that disproportionately affected many poor and had inflamed racial tensions (Cohen & Cook 2020 Almanac).

Ella Jones (65), a widow with one daughter, has been a Ferguson resident for more than 40 years. Jones graduated from the University of Missouri at St. Louis with a B.A. Degree in Chemistry. She was certified by the American Chemical Society as a high-pressure liquid chromatographer and completed training as a pharmacy technician. She was employed by the Washington University School of Medicine and KV Pharmaceutical Company. Jones completed training in municipal leadership at the Shear Institute for Women in Public Life at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. Jones was a Mary Kay Sales Director for 30 years and served as a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) for 22 years. In 2015, Ms. Jones became the first black woman elected to the Ferguson City Council and criticized that city’s law enforcement. She told protestors, who did not then enthusiastically back her, “I don’t get along to go along. If I see something that needs to be addressed, I will address it (Medina, nytimes.com, 6/03/20, City Council Member Ward 1 Jones bio).” After being elected to the City Council, Jones took additional courses in governing, sponsored by the MO Municipal League. On the Ferguson Council, Jones has served on the Human Rights, Traffic, Landmarks, and Senior Citizens Boards and Commissions as well as on the West Florissant Business Association. She is Chair of the Annual UNITY Weekend which provides school supplies and support services to families with children attending schools in the districts that serve Ferguson. Jones is a member of the St. Louis MetroMarket. MetroMarket is a decommissioned bus that was retrofitted as a mobile farmers’ market to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved communities (Jones bio, nytimes.com, Medina, ksdk,).

When she becomes Mayor, Jones will succeed James M. Knowles III, who defeated her in the 2017 mayor’s race. Knowles, who was mayor since 2011, could not run again because of term limits. In the 6/02/2020 Ferguson Mayor’s race, Jones defeated fellow City Councilmember Heather Robinett (49) by eight points, 54%-46%. Both Jones and Robinett agreed that if elected, they would help Ferguson continue implementing the changes outlined in the consent agreement worked out with the former Obama Justice Department (usatoday.com, Yancey-Bragg, 6/03/20, nytimes.com, Medina).

After winning the mayor’s race, Jones told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “It’s just our time. It’s just my time to do right by the people.” When asked what her historic election would mean for Ferguson’s black residents, Jones replied, “One word: inclusion (usatoday.com, 6/03/20, Yancey-Bragg).” Mayor-elect Jones later added in a video posted by a reporter online, “I’ve got work to do—because when you’re an African American woman, they require more of you than they require of my counterpart. I know the people in Ferguson are ready to stabilize their community, and we’re going to work together to get it done (usatoday.com, Yancey-Bragg, AP, Madhani, 6/03/20).” True, the city manager in Ferguson has more governmental power than the mayor, but the mayor has the power to shape public perceptions and is, in effect, the “face of the city (ksdk.com, Clancy, 6/03/20).” And there is no doubt whatsoever that Ms. Jones intends to be just that with her words and actions.

The rest of America should take Mayor-elect Jones’ words to heart, “It’s just our time to do right by the people and include all of the people.” And how do we “do right and include all of the people?” Eloquent words are not enough. It requires, as the citizens of Ferguson and other localities are gradually learning, repeatedly voting for the right people and policies. You want to change policing policies? You want to change an authoritarian minded White House and its Senate enablers? The only way to do it--vote, vote, and always vote in local, state, and national elections. Again, congratulations Mayor-elect Ella Jones!