Police Abuse

Ferguson Residents Come Out to Vote, Diversify City Council

Minority representation by city leaders more closely matches citizenry.

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Wesley Bell
Source: Bell4stl.com

Municipal elections tend to have paltry turnouts, especially when they're divorced from the more compelling (and more publicized) state or national elections. Ferguson, Missouri, had theirs yesterday, and despite terrible weather, saw their election turnout about double.

About 30 percent of the voting citizens cast their ballots, and the community added two African-American candidates to Ferguson's City Council. Ella Jones and Wesley Bell were victorious last night, and will join a council that, up until now, had Dwayne James as its sole minority representative, despite the city's demographics. Brian Fletcher, a former Ferguson mayor, also won a seat on the council.

CNN notes what likely contributed to this year's election turnout: Candidates actually put in the effort. Michael Brown's shooting, the violent aftermath, and the increased attention to Ferguson's broken system of government caused candidates to do more than just pass around yard signs:

Angela Jackson came to the polls with her husband and two little girls in tow. She voted for Ella Jones, a former Mary Kay cosmetics sales director who resigned from her job in January to run for office.

Jackson echoed the thoughts of other Ferguson residents who experienced something new in this election: candidates coming to their door. Past elections have not seen the kind of canvassing activity that took place in the last few weeks.

"One thing we really liked is (Jones) came to our door and talked to us about her desire to make change in our neighborhood," Jackson said. "She's going to be hands on. She lives in the neighborhood as well, and has for the past 36 years. We were kind of taken by that."

Note that minorities in Ferguson will get better representation from within and while remaining a small municipality. In the wake of the Ferguson controversies, some technocrats were calling for the dissolution of the many little communities of the St. Louis greater metropolitan area as a way to keep black residents from being marginalized. But that made little logical sense. Jesse Walker laid out why in August and explained how it would likely reduce the voting influence of minorities, not improve it (to wit: the basic math involved in being a minority, meaning there are fewer of them).

There's another interesting detail in the election results worth keeping an eye on. Bell, who will be representing the district where Brown was shot and the neighborhood damaged by looters, is a municipal court judge in Velda City, another St. Louis community that uses the police to cash in on the citizenry. In the wake of the bad publicity about rapacious fines in St. Louis County, Velda City had a forgiveness program and "sale" on all of its unpaid traffic violations and warrants. From the St. Louis Post Dispatch in September:

Advocates for the poor called it the most generous municipal court amnesty program announced in the area this year. The court in this village of 1,420 — who live on a slice of 0.16 of a square mile — has about 4,000 active warrants, about 85 percent of them for traffic cases.

For its postage-stamp size, the city writes a lot of tickets. The city is near the center of a concentration of small cities and villages that far outpace other areas of the state in court fees, traffic cases and warrants issued per resident — a legal vortex that has come under scrutiny in recent weeks.

Of the municipalities in Missouri that provided court data to the state, Velda City had the sixth-highest rate last year of traffic cases filed per square mile per year: more than 25,000. Police Chief Daniel Paulino estimates that a quarter of the city's residents are fugitives of its court.

Bell may be black, but he's also a part of this system. He defended his role as a judge to The Huffington Post just before the election and said he was in favor of municipal court reform.

The big question will be whether he, Jones, and Fletcher will be willing and able to make the necessary cuts and find the necessary savings so that the police aren't pushed to serve as revenue collectors for the city in the first place. Remember that the racist enforcement of the law was the outcome of a chronic, pressing need for city revenue. That still needs to be fixed. 

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  1. Bell may be black, but he’s also a part of this system.

    Skin color is certainly no guarantee representatives will act in their constituents’ best interests.

    1. no, but it is the only characteristic that is a good indicator for which party someone will vote for.

      1. Huh? Things like religion, gender, income, where you live, etc. aren’t good indicators?

  2. Of the municipalities in Missouri that provided court data to the state, Velda City had the sixth-highest rate last year of traffic cases filed per square mile per year: more than 25,000. Police Chief Daniel Paulino estimates that a quarter of the city’s residents are fugitives of its court.

    It could be worse. They could be shooting people in the back instead of writing them tickets.

  3. With the Rand Paul announcement yesterday I stopped by Slate to see the reaction. I saw repeated claims that Paul laughably linked petty laws to the issues of political brutality. They are, I’m told, completely separate issues.

    Good to see the people of Ferguson voted in higher numbers. Doesn’t mean they voted for the right people. Putting black people into positions of power is not some magical solution for the plight of minorities. I think we’ve seen that with the guy sitting in the White House right now.

    1. The left is comically inconsistent on that subject. If a black guy gets seriously injured or killed during, say, a pot raid, progressives have no problem rightly linking his injuries or death to the War on Drugs.

      But if a black guy is seriously injured or killed because he’s selling loosy cigarettes, progressives act like it’s horribly ridiculous for you to say the laws that created that black market are largely to blame.

      Basically, if progressives don’t support a law (like with weed) then it’s okay to link that to police brutality, but if progressives do support a law (like high cigarette taxes) it’s horrible to make the same connection.

      1. See also: abortion regulations vs literally every other economic regulation

      2. My progressive friends blamed Eric Garner’s death on conservative policies.

    2. Putting black people into positions of power is not some magical solution for the plight of minorities. I think we’ve seen that with the guy sitting in the White House right now.

      If you elect people solely based upon superficial characteristics then unsurprisingly you get only superficial representation. This fact has been plainly evident by anybody paying attention to local politics in major metropolitan areas for the past several decades.

      1. I don’t think it’s just about superficial representation. My guess is that the white people in Ferguson tend to be solidly Republican, while the black people are overwhelmingly Democrat. So there’s a party shift, not just a racial shift (though I agree with your larger point).

        1. As repeatedly demonstrated by Reason, most Democrats don’t care too much about police brutality. Oh sure, they’ll feign outrage sometimes, but deep down they’re just as “law and order” as Republicans. They just support different laws.

          So I would say as regards the issues in Ferguson the change in party too is superficial. Although I will not deny the possibility that substantive changes may occur, but if so those changes will simply shift the burden of government oppression from one group to another.

          1. I don’t disagree. I’m just saying that there are a lot of issues where Democrats and Republicans differ only slightly, but that doesn’t mean people don’t vote for partisan or ideological reasons.

            1. but that doesn’t mean people don’t vote for partisan or ideological reasons

              Stated vs. revealed preferences. Voting for the guy with a “D” next to his name solely because his opponent has an “R” next to his name is no less superficial than voting for the black guy because his opponent is white. Partisanship is superficiality with an extra heaping of tribalism.

              This “election by superficial characteristics” is broader still. Even when you have a lot of similarity in the superficial characteristics of the candidates (all black, all Democrat, etc.), you still often see the most charismatic one or the one who grandstands the most win. Then he breaks every promise and still wins reelection.

              Lazy people substitute things like party or race as proxies for ideology or principles. The mistake you are making is giving credence to their lazy generalizations.

              1. In theory, party affiliation isn’t supposed to be superficial, and I think most people honestly don’t view it as such. Most solidly Democratic voters really believe their guys and women are the only thing blocking the evil Rethuglicans, who are responsible for everything bad in the country. And vice versa for solidly Republican voters. I think they’re mistaken, but I think they genuinely think there’s a massive difference.

                1. I don’t begrudge anyone whatever characteristics they base their decision to elect someone on, whether they recognize the superficiality of their choices or not. The problem is the amount of power the government has, regardless of who wields it.

    3. Yep. And frankly, it’s a little disturbing to see a “libertarian” journal imply that representation has to be race-based in order to be legitimate.

      1. Well, it’s a damned good thing I didn’t say that then.

        1. I admit that “legitimate” wasn’t a good word to use on my part. However, the sentence

          “Note that minorities in Ferguson will get better representation from within and while remaining a small municipality.”

          can’t be interpreted in any other way other than that it’s “better” if minorities are represented by people of their race.

          1. I think he’s saying that a group is going to be better represented the greater their share of the electorate is. If black people are 60% of the electorate than 30%, they are better represented.

            1. And Mike M.’s point is that such “representation” is purely superficial. Saying you make up X% of the population and therefore you “should” make up roughly X% of the elected officials (or employees, or students, or prisoners, etc.) is unfounded.

              Put another way, a rich man who happens to be black has no more truly in common with a black man who happens to be poor than does a rich man who happens to be white. That is of course a gross oversimplification but hopefully illustrates the point.

              Put yet another way, I’d rather be represented by a council full of Janice Rogers Brown’s clones than by a bunch of people who bear only superficial similarities to me. They would far better represent me than a bunch of white liberals.

              1. They would far better represent me than a bunch of white liberals.

                My point is better conveyed by

                “Janice Rogers Brown’s clones would far better represent me than a random bunch of white male millenials”

            2. Yes, I don’t associate “better representation” with “better governance.” That’s why I pointed out Bell’s connection to the very type of system that has been blamed for Ferguson’s racist police and court practices. Apologies if that doesn’t show through.

            3. My other comments aside, I think Shackford’s point can be construed broadly enough that it isn’t race-based. People turning out to vote who previously didn’t will (ceteris paribus) tend to be better represented than before. However, Shackford’s wording inclines one toward a more narrow reading.

              As a side point, though, given that the city council (or whatever body) has a fixed number of members, there’s a zero-sum game at play here. The greater representation of some has to come at the expense of the representation of others. Given that 99% of what governments do is anti-libertarian, whether it be in the interests of one group or another, this means somebody is going to get fucked who wasn’t before. Hopefully that fucking won’t be violent.

              A possible solution to all of this would be to break the jurisdiction up into smaller units that have a lot of local autonomy. However, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility that somebody from one neighborhood could get into trouble (up to and including getting shot) in another neighborhood.

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  5. “?added two African-American candidates to Ferguson’s City Council?”

    What Ferguson needs is a Coleman Young, or a Marion Barry, or perhaps a Cory Booker, or a Kwame Kilpatrick, or maybe a Ray Nagin, or a Ron Dellums or Willie Brown.

    Yeah?getting more people of a particular skin color in charge will definitely fix things right up.

    The sad thing about all of this cop stuff is that it is NOT a racial thing. US policing is completely out of control for EVERYONE. These people will get up on anyone and everyone. YouTube is LOADED with examples of non-blacks getting rousted.

    Making it racial?.you just choke off a Hell of a lot of people that would support radical change.

  6. Republicans argue that we need voter ID laws to prevent voter fraud. Since there is little evidence of voter fraud–I know of a case in D.C. where a gentleman walked in and said he was Eric Holder and that is about it–Democrats argue that all voter ID laws are racists. Why can’t we find a middle ground? 1) Everyone gets a State ID card free that includes your finger prints. 2) You use your finger prints to prove you are who you claim to be–see #1. 3) You pay to upgrade the State ID to a Driver’s License that allows you to drive in that State–and if you fail to pay the renewal fee, your driving privileges auto-revoke, but you still have the State ID to prove you are a residence of that State. And while yes, I know that many people are afraid to be fingerprinted, does anyone know what percentage of Americans have already been fingerprinted? I am willing to bet that it is over 50% and possibly over 70%.

  7. I bet the answer is having more blacks in city government – rather than higher expectations of residents.

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