The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming that the electoral system in Missouri’s Ferguson-Florissant School District excludes Blacks from the political process.
Even though the overwhelming majority of the school district’s students are Black, under the at-large voting system, the majority of voting-age citizens in the area are white.
The ACLU suit calls for a new voting system where the district can be broken up into several regions that each would elect one person to the district school board.
The ACLU lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and Black residents, accuses the school district’s at-large voting system of violating the Voting Rights Act. The complaint claims that “[Blacks] are systematically unable to elect candidates of their choice.”
“The at-large system violates the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting African-American voting strength,” the press release states.
In Ferguson, Missouri, 93 percent of the police force is white, five of the city’s six council members are white, and the city’s mayor, James Knowles, is also white, but the residential population is only 29 percent white. These factors all combine to make Black residents feel disrespected and consistently disregarded.
The press release from the ACLU cites a history of discrimination against Black residents in the school district.
“The district, which spans several municipalities, was created by a 1975 desegregation order intended to remedy the effects of discrimination against African-American students,” according to the press release. “Yet, 40 years later, there is just one African-American member on the seven-member board in a district where African-Americans constitute 77 percent of the student body.”
The ACLU also cited the poor response by the government to the needs of the Black community in its lawsuit.
Tensions in Ferguson have been high since Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, was fatally shot in the street in August by a white police officer. The police department’s militarized response to protesters only made it worse. After weeks of anxiety awaiting the grand jury decision, Blacks in Ferguson were further disappointed when the officer, Darren Wilson, wasn’t indicted.