The #MikeBrown factor: Will St. Louis vote for change in midterms?

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Activists hope the momentum generated around the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown will translate into massive voter turnout among black citizens in this week's midterm elections.

“People are fired up like they’ve never been fired up before,” said state Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal.

More than 3,000 people have registered to vote in Ferguson since Brown’s shooting. And the “Hands Up” rallying cry has been adapted for get-out-the-vote drives in states across the country. There have even been calls for voters to cast a protest ballot by writing in Michael Brown as a candidate, although his parents are asking people not to do that.


The midterms aren't the only thing that has Ferguson feeling anxious again. In the coming weeks a St. Louis County grand jury will decide whether to indict Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Many of Brown’s supporters say a court indictment would be an important first step towards justice.

Yet others are skeptical that will happen. They say the investigative process has been tainted from the beginning, and are outraged that Wilson has hasn't been arrested nearly two months after the Aug. 9 shooting.

The grand jury's decision is expected in mid-November. But for some, the idea of justice is not just tied to what happens in the courtroom.

Georgetown University law professor Paul Butler says the lobbyists, lawyers, and activists working behind the scenes across the country have made Ferguson "a movement, not a moment” —one, he thinks, that could lead to substantive reforms in the criminal justice system.


Johns Hopkins University political science professor Lester Spence agrees. The movement is no longer just about courtroom justice — or even Michael Brown, he said.

“There’s been an extension of what their goals are over the course of time," Spence said. "The people who live there need the status quo to change, and that’s what they’re working for. Their thing is likely a lot broader than Michael Brown.”


Activists in and around Ferguson have kept up their protest efforts for more than two months, from the streets of Ferguson to St. Louis’ symphony hall.

Johnetta Elzie, a 25-year-old St. Louis activist, said the 2013 George Zimmerman verdict provided an important lesson for Ferguson: the community cannot place its faith solely in the hands of a grand jury. She said there are people in St. Louis who want to forget the whole matter and go back to the way things were before, but that's not going to happen.


“They weren’t prepared for people to care this much,” said Elzie, who edits a newsletter created in the wake of Brown’s death to raise awareness and galvanize support. “I don’t think people expected for this to last this long, for (more than 80 days) of never knowing where the protesters are going to be, what we may shut down, what we might do. They just know we are out here and active.”

Tuesday will show whether the movement extends to the voting booths. Among those on the ballot are St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, who has been criticized by activists for refusing to recuse himself from the Brown case. His reelection effort is viewed as a referendum on his handling of the teen's death.


The election choices are tough for a community that isn't well represented on the ballot. St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby says the black population "doesn't have fair representation in their local government, on the police force." Still, she says she is hopeful that the African American community will turn out in force on Tuesday and "make a difference.”

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