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Posted at 3:39 p.m. on Aug. 19, 2014
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is characterizing the nearly all-white elected leadership and police force in majority-black Ferguson, Mo., as “poison.”
“Here you have mostly white police force in a mostly black community, but I’m really perplexed about why most of the elected officials are white as well,” Norton, a Democrat, said Tuesday during an interview with MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart. “Is there something about the way elections are done in Missouri or in the county?”
Though members of Congress have raised the alarm about mounting violence and militarized police in the St. Louis suburb, Norton, a Yale-educated civil rights lawyer, may be among the first to raise the issue of racial disparity among Ferguson’s elected leadership.
The narrative emerged following the shooting death of Michael Brown, as The New York Times and other national media began examining voting and electoral politics in the protest-torn community. While Ferguson is 67 percent black, it is led by a white mayor and a six-person city council with only one black member. Six people on the seven-member school board are white.
“That’s troublesome,” Norton said on MSNBC. “Usually, when you get a minority community, or a community that becomes mostly minority, you get some diversity of representation. So, you may have elected leadership as well as a police force that does not feel that they are truly representative of the community — and that’s poison.”
Race often comes into play during discussions about local politics in D.C., where the city’s longtime black majority has dwindled to below 50 percent. Majority-black wards helped elect Mayor Vincent Gray, the latest in a long line of black mayors since the city was granted home rule in 1973. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and six members on the city’s 13-person council are white.
Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who is black, won the Democratic mayoral nomination in April. She faces at least three white challengers, including Councilmember David Catania. The November election could be the first time the “Chocolate City” elects a white mayor.
Norton is a third-generation native Washingtonian who attended school at the city’s segregated and prestigious Dunbar High School. She helped organize the 1963 March on Washington as a young activist. Living in New York in the 1970s, Norton chaired the city’s Commission on Human Rights and was appointed as head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Jimmy Carter.
If she were in Ferguson today, Norton said, “the first thing I’d be doing is organizing voters to go to the polls in November.” She also commended the federal response to tense situation, saying the federal government is “about the only government that could be termed as doing something correct.”
Forty FBI agents are on the ground in Ferguson, according to officials. President Barack Obama has announced that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will travel to the community on Wednesday to talk with local leaders.