Steve Chapman
Not all the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, are black; not all of them are out protesting; and some think the protesters are neglecting a better option for change.

"There are so many people here that don't vote, but they think they have the rights to everything in the world," one man told NPR. "The reason that in the African-American community there's less power is that they're not registering to vote," former Mayor Brian Fletcher told NBC News.

They would not necessarily get an argument from African-American activists. When the Rev. Al Sharpton visited Ferguson, he had stern words for black residents. "You all have got to start voting and showing up," he thundered to a church congregation. "Twelve percent turnout is an insult to your children."

Actually, 12 percent was overstating it. In the 2013 local election, only 6 percent of Ferguson's black residents cast ballots. That's one reason nearly every local elected official is white.

Tony Lee, a commentator on the right-wing Breitbart website, charged that they "have essentially disenfranchised themselves and are responsible for empowering the 'white power structure' that they have been complaining about after (Michael) Brown's death."

So both left and right are agreed: More voting by African-Americans in Ferguson would be a good thing. That's how democracy works. If they want to change how the police and other government bodies work, they should go to the polls.

But not everyone is so keen on the idea. Amid the protests, a couple of local women set up a booth in Ferguson to register voters. "We're trying to make young people understand that this is how to change things," one explained.

The reaction of the Missouri Republican Party was not elation. "Disgusting" and "completely inappropriate" were the terms used by Executive Director Matt Wills. "If that's not fanning the political flames, I don't know what is," he said.

Let's get this straight. The critics don't want the black citizens of Ferguson to demonstrate. They don't want them to riot. And they don't want them to vote. What are they supposed to do to effect the sort of change they want? Pray?

Wills' comments were called "dumb" by one GOP state legislator. But he seems to be in a lonely minority. Encouraging voting by African-Americans is not a conservative cause these days, in Missouri or elsewhere.

Just the opposite. In 2006, the state's Republican governor signed a bill passed by the Republican-dominated Legislature imposing one of the strictest voter ID rules in the country over objections that it would hurt the poor, who are disproportionately black.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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