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Crowds throng Ferguson City Hall for a new start

Crowds throng Ferguson City Hall for a new start

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FERGUSON • The city of Ferguson’s fresh start began Tuesday night.

Wesley Bell, Ella Jones and Brian Fletcher — the three newly elected City Council members — were sworn in before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people at City Hall, while dozens more stood outside.

For the first time in the town’s 120 years, this city of about 21,000, whose population is about two-thirds black, has a council evenly split between white and African-American members, plus a white mayor. The previous council had one black member.

The gravity of this history-breaking moment wasn’t lost on anyone who attended.

“We have an opportunity to set a broad example for the world,” said Bell, a lawyer and professor of criminal justice who is African-American.

The solemnity was mixed with feelings of elation for new possibilities. That was expressed again and again for more than an hour by new, retiring and continuing city officials, as well as public speaker after speaker. White and black residents, activists, young and old told the council what they expected.

Fletcher, who was mayor from 2005 to 2011 and the only new council member who is white, told the crowd that he saw this as “a new beginning for the city to move forward.”

Afterward, he added, “We have a lot of people behind us ... they also put us on warning that they are watching us.”

Fletcher also is the chairman of the “I love Ferguson” campaign celebrating the assets of the largely middle-class community.

The first challenge the new council may face is a proposal by a national organization to remove the street memorial for Michael Brown, the teenager whose fatal shooting by a Ferguson police officer touched off protests and riots.

The memorial near the shooting scene has become a kind of shrine.

Janie Jones, president and CEO of the Washington-based Joint Council on Policy and Social Impact, told the council that her organization, the Lipton Group and the family of Brown have been working with the city to expedite the removal of the makeshift memorial to Brown.

In its place, the group proposes the installation of a permanent street marker — a dove.

“It is our hope that as the city of Ferguson and country work to move forward, that the dove will symbolize the local and global communities’ desire to move forward together in peace, unity and love so that every man, woman and child who walks the streets of Ferguson will do so with confidence, dignity and respect,” Jones said.

Ella Jones, also African-American, and others emphasized the importance for the community to remain engaged and united.

Rasheen Aldridge, a young activist who is on Gov. Jay Nixon’s Ferguson Commission searching for resolutions to the tension, called for Ferguson and the region to begin healing.

“A lot has happened...We have a long road ahead,” Aldridge told the mayor and council. “You have a community behind you,” he said, adding that “no one should be judged by the color of their skin.” All, he said, “should be treated fairly.”

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Margaret S. Gillerman is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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