If Ferguson residents want a diverse police force that reflects the community, they need to elect someone who makes inclusion a priority, said Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. In Ferguson – where an unarmed black teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer on Aug. 9 – the police department has three black officers and 50 white officers. The town’s population is 67 percent African-American, yet Ferguson has a white mayor and five of the six-member city council members are also white. As the Post-Dispatch illustrated with a startling graphic on the front page of the Sunday paper, Ferguson is typical among county municipalities for its lack of representation of blacks in police and government. Several local leaders are encouraging protesters fighting for justice in the Michael Brown case to keep marching, but also register to vote. The Urban League, NAACP, ministers and politicians have all organized volunteers to educate residents on the voting process and register especially African-American voters. In 2013, only about six percent of the eligible black voters cast their ballot in Ferguson’s municipal election, compared to 17 percent of white voters. “The need for voter registration education and mobility has always been a cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement,” McMillan said.
If African Americans are not registered to vote, they can’t serve on a jury, McMillan explained. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch recently chose to have a grand jury consider whether Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, 28, should face charges in the fatal shooting of Brown. The grand jury consists of one black man and two black women, and six white men and three white women.
Last week at the Dellwood Recreation Center, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, St. Louis County NAACP and several other organizations joined together to offer food, rental and utility assistance and other services to the residents in the Ferguson area who were affected by the unrest following Brown’s death.
They also set up a table to register voters. McMillan said Urban League and NAACP volunteers have also been out talking with young people on West Florissant Avenue, where the protests have taken place, about becoming more engaged in their communities.