Voters in Ferguson, Mo., have re-elected James Knowles III as mayor for a third term, passing on city council member Ella Jones who would have been the first African-American placed in the office.
Knowles, who won the election Tuesday with 56 percent of the vote, was the St. Louis suburb’s mayor at the time of the police-related shooting death of Michael Brown and held the position through the months of protests and social unrest in its streets. The activity put Ferguson into focus regarding deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and was one of the catalysts of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The 39-year-old politician, who was first elected to city council at age 25 asked voters to look at his experience rather than any need to change leadership. “We all want the same thing,” Knowles told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re all here for the same purpose, which is our community.” This will be his final term in office, due to term limits.
Brown, 18, was shot to death by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. A grand jury declined to charge him and a Justice Department investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing. He resigned later that year.
But the department also brought a lawsuit over police and court practices that it deemed racially biased. A settlement in the case called for significant changes in operations, including sensitivity training for officers, adoption of community policing techniques, court reforms and other measures.
Knowles said Ferguson has “voluntarily made a tremendous amount of reforms in our police department. We’re not going back on those reforms,” according to the Associated Press.
Jones, 62, was elected to her seat seven months after Brown was killed and she is one of three Black Ferguson City Council members. Before the incident, only one member was Black. She blamed the loss on voter apathy. “People have to want change,” Jones said, according to USA Today. “You can’t make change for them.”
Gary Kemp, a 68-year-old retiree, told the AP he voted for Knowles because he’s been a strong leader in the toughest of circumstances.
“He’s led us through some difficult times,” Kemp said. “We have faith that he’s totally invested in Ferguson and he’ll lead us through these difficult hours.”