The mayor of Ferguson, Missouri, now admits that, yes, there is a racial divide in the St. Louis suburb — an admission that comes more than three months after violence erupted following the shooting death of African-American teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.
“There’s not a racial divide in the City of Ferguson,” Mayor James Knowles told msnbc’s Tamron Hall during an interview with “NewsNation” in August, adding that is a “perspective of all residents in our city.” But on Monday, Knowles told Al Jazeera he regretted his previous comments.
In Ferguson, about two-thirds of the residents are black, and the police force is reportedly about 93% white. But some local officials, including Knowles, continued to deny in the months following Brown’s death that a racial divide existed in the town.
Knowles has now changed his public stance. “There’s clearly racial divides all across the country. But I didn’t see the divide in our community so much as race, but a lot of it is socioeconomic,” he said. “It does disproportionately affect African-Americans. So among that, yes, absolutely. There’s a racial divide there.”
Knowles said he didn’t previously witness “this kind of outcry.”
“My point was we don’t see that play out in Ferguson. We do not see white residents and African-American residents looking at each other with a cautious eye or scared of each other on a daily basis,” he added.
Protests and violence broke out for weeks in Ferguson after veteran officer Darren Wilson fatally shot the unarmed 18-year-old on Aug. 9. Police and witnesses have said Wilson and Brown were caught in a struggle through the window of the officer’s SUV when, according to police, Wilson says Brown attempted to reach for the officer’s gun. Forensic evidence, leaked to The New York Times through unnamed sources, suggested the first shots were fired from inside Wilson’s vehicle. A half-dozen eyewitnesses have said publicly that they saw Brown flee from the SUV to later turn and put his hands up in surrender as Wilson fired the final fatal shots. But a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity told NBC News’ Pete Williams that Wilson said the teen turned and charged back toward him after running from the vehicle, at which point Wilson feared for his life.
After the shooting death, Ferguson became the scene of both escalating violence and anger on the part of demonstrators, as well as a heavily armored police presence. Activists in the community continue to call for an indictment in the case. Local law enforcement officials have prepared riot gear and weaponry ahead of the St. Louis grand jury’s decision, which many people expect won’t indict Wilson. The outcome, which could come any day, rests with a panel of 12 citizens. They saw testimony on Thursday from a person believed to be one of the last witnesses to appear before the jurors.
On Monday, Gov. Jay Nixon issued a state of emergency in Missouri, activating the state National Guard to assist in supporting local authorities if unrest erupts upon the decision.