Today citizens of Ferguson, Missouri had the opportunity to elect three new members to City Counsel and increase the diversity of its counsel members. Of the three available seats representing different wards of the city, African-American males are running for two of the the three positions: black versus black for the first seat, two white and two blacks for the second seat, and two whites for the third seat. Currently, there is only one black member on a counsel of six members, plus Mayor James Knowles. The guaranteed seat-one candidate means that the African-American representation will double, and possibly increase to 50% of the Counsel.
Many feel that this is an opportunity for blacks to gain the representation they deserve in a city run by white officials, but with a population that is two-thirds African-American. In light of the shooting of Michael Brown, 18, and the ensuing investigation into the police department and city officials, this is another opportunity towards bringing about change in Ferguson. (The article also touches upon concern for low voting turnout, especially in light of a spell of bad weather today that could discourage those registered to reach polls.)
“People in general want to see change,” Knowles said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think any candidate who is running for office or anyone on the current City Council has said they want to keep things the way they are.”
The general consensus seems to be that in order for change, equality, and fair representation to occur, more blacks must gain access to city government positions; the rallies, protests, and debates against discrimination over the past months will all be for naught if the new counsel members are not of a certain race and ethnicity. While I understand how important it is to have the representatives reflective of their population, I think Mayor Knowles was correct in identifying that change is the first priority for the city’s culture and survival. Furthermore, I believe that this can be accomplished through appointing great minds and perceptive leaders.
Great minds and perceptive leaders exist regardless of race. It is fair to say that any or all of the candidates running for City Counsel could fit this bill and be qualified to bring about the change that the city needs. However, will the represented citizens be able to perceive future changes with the same colorblind goggles, if say only one black candidate were elected? I venture to say that it is very important to two-thirds of the Ferguson citizens that the elected members come from a similar background to themselves (primarily race, socioeconomic status, education, etc.) They need that visual assurance that they are no longer so grossly underrepresented in government. To take it a step further, will this assurance pose as a pacifier even if those black representatives cannot effect the change they promised?
I argue that both are important to the journey that Ferguson officials must take to avoid past mistakes. However, I value the quality of leaders over their physical attributes. Elect those who are most qualified to bring about equity, respect, integrity, equality, and fight against discrimination and the current culture of fear. That is what the democratic system was envisioned to facilitate.
Oftentimes, certain values can be assigned to a candidate based upon his political party. However, political affiliations are not mentioned in this article, neither were the candidates respective platforms. The reporting and central focus were upon the candidates physical qualities.
Lastly, if a leader is to bring about these types of changes, he should also seek to bridge the gap between populations. A cooperative environment must be achieved, and I think the first place to start is by establishing the common values and goals of both the city and its individual Counsel members.
This may be perceived as a black and white issue, however the solution is most definitely grey!