Politics

Ferguson Election Triples Number of Blacks on City Council

Protestors block traffic outside the Ferguson, Mo., police department, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Ferguson. The Justice Department on Wednesday cleared a white former Ferguson police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old, but also issued a scathing report calling for sweeping changes in city law enforcement practices it called discriminatory and unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Protestors block traffic outside the Ferguson, Mo., police department, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Ferguson. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

JIM SALTER, Associated Press
JIM SUHR, Associated Press

FERGUSON, Missouri (AP) — Two black candidates have been elected to the Ferguson City Council, tripling African-American representation in the St. Louis suburb where poor race relations have been a focal point since a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man.

It was the first municipal election since officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9. The shooting sparked sometimes violent protests and spawned a national movement to press for change in how police deal with minorities.

The election means that half of the six-member city council will now be African-American in Ferguson, a town where two-thirds of the 21,000 residents are black. The lone black incumbent councilman was not up for re-election. The mayor, who could break any tie votes, is white.

Despite stormy weather, voter turnout increased substantially from the previous election following a strong get-out-the-vote effort. The town that drew only 12.3 percent of registered voters last April had 29.4 percent turnout Tuesday.

“This community came out in record numbers to make sure our voices were heard,” said councilman-elect Wesley Bell, one of the black candidates, calling the election part of a healing and rebuilding process.

A grand jury last year decided not to indict Wilson, a decision that stoked more protests.

The U.S. Justice Department also decided not to prosecute Wilson, who resigned in November. But the department faulted the city for racial bias and profiling in the police department and a profit-driven municipal court system, prompting several city officials to resign.

The new city council will be tasked with approving hiring of their replacements.

Voting at the First Presbyterian Church of Ferguson, Charrolynn Washington said the election is where real change will begin.

“As much change is needed here in Ferguson, this is where we begin — not out there in the streets, doing what they were doing — but, right here,” Washington said. “They need to be voting and putting people in position to make the change and make the decisions that need to be made.”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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