Ella Jones will be sworn in as mayor of Ferguson, Mo., next week, becoming the first black mayor — and the first woman — to lead the city that gained national attention when police killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in 2014.
The protests that erupted in response helped establish the Black Lives Matter movement of today.
Still, nearly six years after Brown’s death, Jones says the protests against police brutality — this time in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — feel the same.
“I don’t think they feel any different,” Jones tells NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly on All Things Considered.
The officers who were involved in the shooting of Brown were not indicted. But his death drew the attention of the federal government and the city entered into a federal consent decree in 2016 that resulted in widespread policing and municipal court reforms.
Jones thinks that despite the work Ferguson has done, her city — which has a population that is two-thirds black — still feels like the center of the discussion around police violence in the U.S.
“Even though we are striving to do better, Ferguson is considered as ground zero,” she says, “and anything that happens in the United States, they’re gonna always come back to Ferguson.”
Jones says Ferguson needs to “strive toward a better image.”
“I’m not saying we got to forget about Michael Brown. We’ll never forget that. That’s a part of our history, it’s here to stay,” Jones says. “However, we’ve got to show people that we are improving.”
Jones understands the community’s frustration, but says she opposes protesters’ calls to defund the police.
“I am not for [defunding the police], simply because I have looked at Ferguson police department, I’ve looked at the changes that they have made and the changes that they are going to make,” Jones says. “You have to get in, the community has to start working with their police department and the police department needs to start working with their community. Not to police them, but to protect and to serve them.”
As the movement to end police brutality continues in the country, Jones urges protesters to pivot their focus to running for elected office.
“Once you protest and you want results, then I suggest to people, ‘Go run for office,'” she says. “Because when you have a seat at the table, you’re able to make policy.”
Listen to the full interview at the audio link above.
Gustavo Contreras and Justine Kenin produced and edited this story for radio.