James Knowles, the mayor of Ferguson, Missouri, announced Sunday that its police force will hire more African-American officers in the predominantly black town, according to media reports. The initiative comes as part of efforts to ease racial tensions in the region, which have run high since the Aug. 9 shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer.
Knowles reportedly said at a news conference that authorities have planned to make changes to the police force that is “more reflective of the demographics of Ferguson.” He also revealed that the police department would begin scholarship programs aimed at recruiting more black officers in an attempt to help “bridge the gap” between residents “who feel there is a divide between them and law enforcement,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“I think people will continue to express frustration and look for change,” Knowles said, according to the Post-Dispatch. “But I hope people understand that the city of Ferguson has been responsive. We hope that will help bring the community of Ferguson together and I hope others will start to recognize that going forward.”
Knowles also reportedly added that a civilian review board, comprising of residents, local businessmen and law enforcement, would be established to provide inputs on police actions. The city also reportedly plans to increase a monthly stipend -- reserved for officers residing in Ferguson -- to $400 from the current $100.
The plans were revealed following the mayor's announcement that the 28-year-old Darren Wilson will not receive a severance package from the Ferguson Police Department after stepping down from the police force. Knowles also reportedly said that he was not optimistic that Wilson’s resignation would bring an end to the protests following the grand jury’s decision last week.
In a controversial decision, the grand jury chose not to indict Wilson, who is white, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black teenager, reigniting violent protests in the St. Louis suburb and other parts of the country. Last week, angry protesters in Ferguson and across the United States torched vehicles and looted several businesses while some also targeted malls on one of the busiest shopping days of the year on Black Friday.
“We will continue to protest peacefully and look for ways in which we can help enact changes and improvements in our community. We will continue to try to uplift both Ferguson and the St. Louis area in general,” a group of local activists said in a statement, according to the Post-Dispatch.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, demonstrations shifted to the Edward Jones Dome, where the NFL’s St. Louis Rams were taking on the Oakland Raiders. The St. Louis Rams' decision to enter the field displaying the "Hands-up-don't-shoot" pose -- adopted by protesters of the shooting of the unarmed teen -- was criticized by the police association.
“The St. Louis Police Officers Association is profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory,” a statement from the association reportedly read.
Jeff Roorda, the business manager of the association, also said: “Now that the evidence is in and Officer Wilson's account has been verified by physical and ballistic evidence as well as eye-witness testimony, which led the grand jury to conclude that no probable cause existed that Wilson engaged in any wrongdoing, it is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over-and-over again."