Ella Jones made history in Ferguson, Missouri, Tuesday when she became the first woman and first black person — yes, ever —elected mayor. Jones will replace James Knowles III, who was term-limited out of office. Jones failed to unseat Knowles in 2017 but prevailed against Heather Robinett, who seems like a nice person. Jones also broke barriers in 2015 when she became the first black woman elected to the City Council. Ferguson was founded in 1855 and is no common Portland, Oregon. The city's population is 67 percent black, so the government has had an apartheid flavor for a while. This is an important move forward. It's not just a matter of visible representation but black voters believing that a black politician can actually make a difference in their lives.

From the New York Timess:

"If you've been oppressed so long, it's hard for you to break out to a new idea," Ms. Jones said [after losing in 2017]. "And when you've been governed by fear and people telling you that the city is going to decline because an African-American person is going to be in charge, then you tend to listen to the rhetoric and don't open your mind to new possibilities."

You can't blame black Ferguson residents for being cynical. Ferguson is most famous, unfortunately, for the protests and unrests that followed Officer Darren Wilson's fatal shooting of Michael Brown. The Department of Justice, when it was led by an honorable attorney general, conducted an investigation into Ferguson police practices and determined in 2015 that the department consistently and unlawfully discriminated against black people.


Interview with Ella Jones, first elected black mayor in Ferguson's history www.youtube.com

The police force was an occupying army in Ferguson. Officer Wilson himself, in a New Yorker profile, kindly explained why this was necessary.

"If you live in a high-crime area, with a lot of poverty, there's going to be a large police presence. You're going to piss people off. If police show up, it's because it's something bad, and whoever's involved can't figure out the problem for themselves."

[Wilson] continued, "Everyone is so quick to jump on race. It's not a race issue." There were two opposing views about policing, he said: "There are people who feel that police have too much power, and they don't like it. There are people who feel police don't have enough power, and they don't like it."

Yes, but the people who feel the police have “too much power" are usually the black folks cops are shaking down on the regular. Those who feel cops don't “have enough power" are usually cops themselves or white people who are afraid black thugs might invade their neighborhoods.

The “large police presence" doesn't deter crime or lower poverty. It arguably exacerbates both. Black residents were fined into penury and hassled every moment of their lives. That's not freedom. It's like living in a prison but without your meals provided.

Can Jones wave a magic wand and make all this go away? No, but Ferguson has taken slow steps toward progress. Both Jones and Robinett ran on a platform of police reform. The black community in Ferguson was long viewed as something for elected officials to control. It was a sundown town until the 1960s, which meant blacks weren't allowed on the streets after dark. Jones isn't just the mayor. She's lived in Ferguson for more 40 years and is a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She's part of the community, and as Jones said last night, "It's just our time ... It's just my time to do right by the people."

[The New Yorker / New York Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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