Column: COLUMN: Ferguson has proven to be a model for success five years later

As the fifth anniversary of the unrest in Ferguson passes, it’s clear it has lead to changes both politically and socially.

Bryce Kolk is a sophomore journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

Five years have passed since the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer catapulted Ferguson, a suburb northwest of St. Louis, into the national spotlight. In the immediate aftermath, protests ranging from peaceful demonstrations to late-night looting rocked the city. In the years since, however, Ferguson has made significant progress in reforming their local government.

As protests flared in the streets in August 2014, the African-American majority city was represented by a city council with just one black councilmember. Today, the six member council includes four African Americans. This current council more accurately represents the city, as 68% of the population is black.

This dramatic shift in representation likely wouldn’t have been possible without the increase in voter turnout Ferguson experienced after the protests. In the April 2014 municipal elections, a dismal 11.98% of voters went to the polls. A year later, turnout more than doubled, rising to 24.39% in the April 2015 municipal elections.

Likewise, St. Louis County experienced changes from the event.

At the time of the shooting, the county’s prosecuting attorney was Robert McCulloch, who ran the grand jury investigation against the officer involved in the shooting. McCulloch’s grand jury ultimately declined to indict the officer for any crime. Naturally, this finding was controversial, fueled by McCulloch’s perceived pro-police bias during the grand jury proceedings.

Because of the conflicting accounts, it’s impossible to ever know what happened on the day of the shooting, but on election day, voters’ intentions were clear. After serving for 28 years and seven consecutive terms as the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, McCulloch was ousted by Wesley Bell, an activist-supported reformer from Ferguson.

Bell centered his platform around rehabilitating non-violent criminals and juveniles, while also working to improve relations between police and the communities they serve. In May 2019, Bell visited Germany and Portugal with 19 other prosecutors from around the U.S. to learn about their methods of policing, from maintaining a low incarceration rate to decriminalizing drug use. 

Change wasn’t just felt in Ferguson, but around the country as well.

A push for transparency in policing soon gave way to a revolution in police body-worn camera policy. Before the incident in Ferguson, few departments across the country invested in the cameras, and most of those that did were relatively small, according to the Washington Post. As of November 2017, however, 62 of 69 major cities had implemented some form of body worn cameras within their police department, according to a study by The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights.

This push for transparency was, in part, fueled by grants given to 73 local police agencies by former President Obama’s Department of Justice in 2015. These grants, totaling $23.2 million, offered to pay for half of the price of each camera, giving localities financial incentive to become more transparent. The Department of Justice also provided funding for studying the effects of body worn cameras on communities in Miami, Milwaukee and Phoenix.

Still, the farthest reaching effects from Ferguson aren’t easy to explain through elections or policy changes.

In March 2014, before the events in Ferguson, 46% of Americans believed the country “needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites,” according to Pew Research Center. In July 2015, however, that number rose to 59%. Among whites, the rise was even stronger, climbing from 39% to 53%.

Ferguson changed minds in an astonishingly short amount of time, making equality a goal for a majority of Americans. The country is more socially conscious than ever before. Five years later, it’s clear the protests have transformed the political and social landscape of both Ferguson and the country at large. We can’t stop now, but it’s clear we’re making progress.

Edited by Caroline Fellows |

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