Are Missouri Officials Shutting Black Congressmen Out of Ferguson Talks?

Are Missouri Officials Shutting Black Congressmen Out of Ferguson Talks?

Reps. Lacy Clay and Emanuel Cleaver were not invited to a meeting with top leaders to discuss the troubled community.

Published September 11, 2014

It seems that Missouri leaders still have a few lessons to learn from the crisis that engulfed Ferguson after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. When the unarmed teenager was killed by Officer Darren Wilson, the St. Louis suburb for weeks made national and global headlines that were reminiscent of civil rights unrest of the sixties. Much of the protesters' anger centered on what they feel is an abuse of power by white officials in a largely African-American community.

On Monday, Sept. 15, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, Gov. Jay Nixon, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, state attorney general Chris Koster and county executive Charlie Dooley are scheduled to participate in a meeting about Ferguson, where tensions have lowered to a simmer but have not yet been extinguished.

Missing from the table will be Rep. Lacy Clay, who represents the district and fellow Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, who was a frequent commentator during the violent aftermath of Brown's shooting.

"I'm offended that the two people McCaskill is supposed to be working with at the federal level weren't invited," said a visibly angry Clay, who was informed of the meeting by one of the invitees.

He suspects that the omission, which he considers "disrespectful," will enable McCaskill to rally support during the meeting for St. Louis prosecutor Bob McCulloch, whom activists in Ferguson don't trust to handle the Brown case fairly. He has a history, they say of treating African-Americans unfairly and protecting members of the town's majority white police force, and Clay agrees.

On Wednesday, protesters attempted to shut down Interstate 70 in an effort to have McCulloch replaced with a special prosecutor, the Washington Post reports. In addition, more than 100,000 people across the nation have signed a petition calling for him to step down. McCaskill has said in interviews that she believes McCulloch will be fair.

Cleaver, who says he'd "like to believe" that McCaskill "just forgot" to include them, also believes that any meetings among officials related to the case should attended by Clay because he knows and understands the district better than anyone else.

But a staffer in McCaskill's office, speaking off the record in an email to BET.com, said that the "informal" meeting had not been scheduled by the senator and expressed confidence that Clay, who knew no details about it other than its existence, had been invited.

Interestingly, that sounds much like the kind of spin a reporter overheard McCaskill, on the telephone with her staff, recommending — most likely in response to a query from BET.com — so that it would not appear that some sort of "secret" meeting was taking place.

When Clay and McCaskill spoke Thursday afternoon, the senator said that she would have the governor's office contact him and that he was welcome to attend. 

Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.

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(photo: courtesy Steven Engelhardt)

Written by Joyce Jones

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