One of the byproducts of the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson is the national attention that has been paid to the dramatic disparity in voter participation and political representation of African-Americans in the small suburb of St. Louis.
Ferguson is a city of 23,000 and is roughly two-thirds Black. Its six-member city council has just one African-American member. The level of voter participation by Black residents has been abysmal, sometimes as low as 6 percent.
In the last week, a number of local elected officials and local organizations are seeking to address this situation.
“Everybody is trying to move in that direction now,” said Courtney A. Curtis, a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, in an interview with BET.com. “It’s an area where there is a lot of work to be done and a number of people are now trying to do that work."
As one example, Antonio French, an alderman in St. Louis, has put together an organization a few miles north of his district, in Ferguson, to encourage local residents to register to vote and to become more engaged politically.
The organization, Heal St. Louis, has set up a small storefront in Ferguson and has opened for business with local residents.
According to several local officials, there are a number of reasons for the small number of African-Americans who are involved politically. The Black residents tend to be more recent migrants to the area, moving from the north side of the city of St. Louis and other places. By comparison, the white population has been established over a longer period of time.
Also, instead of having local elections during periods when the state conducts its elections as well presidential balloting, local elections in Ferguson are held in April, and in odd-numbered years. That has done little to enhance voter participation.
Meanwhile, the local chapter of the NAACP recently held a march aimed at encouraging residents of Ferguson to vote and to become more deeply involved in their city’s political affairs.
“We’re working on something that is important to this particular community,” said Adolphus Pruitt, head of the St. Louis NAACP, in an interview with BET.com.
“But the truth is that Ferguson is no different than a significant part of the voting American,” Pruitt said. “What we’re seeing is voter apathy. When people are hurting from being in a challenging socio-economic position for years and generation, it creates apathy. And it takes time to come out of that.”
Pruitt added that increased political involvement by African-Americans is important. But he added that it would hardly serve as a panacea for all that ails cities like Ferguson.
“The state and others need to pay attention to what’s going there in terms of education, in terms of job creation and in terms of economic conditions,” Pruitt said.
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
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(Photo: AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)