Residents elected a black man and a black woman to Ferguson’s city council on Tuesday in the Missouri city’s first municipal election since a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teen, triggering months of sometimes violent protests.
Like the police force in Ferguson, where two-thirds of residents are black, the city’s leadership has long been dominated by whites.
Ferguson has about 21,000 residents but has had only two black councillors since its incorporation in 1894, including incumbent Dwayne James.
Eight candidates, including four African-Americans, were up for three seats in an election seen as critical to addressing the racially discriminatory practices that threw Ferguson into the spotlight when Michael Brown, 18, was shot dead in August.
The shooting spurred a national debate over police treatment of minorities, an issue given extra impetus when a white South Carolina officer was charged with murder on Tuesday after video showed him shooting at the back of a 50-year-old black man.
Voter turnout almost doubled to about 30 percent, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, despite a heavy thunderstorm.
The new black councillors are Ella Jones and Wesley Bell, a professor and judge who ran against another African-American in the ward where Brown lived, unofficial results showed. White former Ferguson mayor Brian Fletcher also won a seat.
“I hope this means we’ll have a more engaged and willing-to-listen council,” a resident of the St. Louis suburb and State Representative Courtney Curtis said, noting however that two candidates championed by activists had lost.
“This will be the most minority representation ever on the council. What they do remains to be seen, but I am hopeful.”
The council will select a new city manager, who in turn will hire and supervise the police chief and all other city employees, with the exception of the city clerk.
Both the previous police chief and city manager resigned, as did Ferguson’s municipal judge, after the U.S. Justice Department said in March that it found widespread discriminatory practices in the police department and the municipal court.
A county grand jury declined to indict Wilson for Brown’s death and the U.S. Justice Department also declined to pursue charges against the officer, who resigned from the department.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, considered a seventh member of the council, said reforms are already under way and do not depend upon new council members.
“People in general want to see change,” Knowles told Reuters by phone. “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.”
(Reporting by Carey Gillam and Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Louise Ireland)