Between Ferguson's Police And Population, A Racial Divide

Robert Siegel speaks with local political leader Patricia Bynes of Ferguson, Mo., about the clashes between residents and police taking place there since the weekend. Unrest erupted after an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by police recently in the St. Louis suburb.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Ferguson is home to just a little over 20,000 people, and about two thirds of the population is African-American. And for more on the tensions there between the black community and the police, we're going to turn to Patricia Bynes. She's African-American, and she is the Democratic committeewoman for Ferguson Township. Welcome to the program.

PATRICIA BYNES: Hi, thank you, Robert. Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: We've all heard about how few black police officers there are in Ferguson. There aren't many black elected officials either - 1 councilman in 5. Why is that?

BYNES: Well, anything other than a presidential election there is low voter turnout. And the African-American community has been disenfranchised for a very long time. When you have people who are worrying about can I get a job - can I get to work - can I put food on the table - when election day on Tuesday comes around, that is the furthest thing from their minds. And the whites that live in the community - they participate. And so they vote for who they want for counsel and mayor, and they don't always put practices in place that are best for the majority population there.

SIEGEL: Give us a sense, though, here, has there been an ongoing dialogue - some kind of discussion about community relations in this area and in other areas of St. Louis county? Has only this tragedy brought this out into the open or how open has the talk been?

BYNES: It depends on who you talk to. If you talk to those of us who are politically engaged in the African-American community, we've been discussing this for quite a long time. For a lot of the white people, the status quo is fine for them. There's no need for a discussion. They say that things are fine, and there's a huge disconnect there.

SIEGEL: What about the looting that's taken place? Who's doing it? Are these teenagers? Are they gang members? Are they - who is it?

BYNES: I was actually out there the night of the looting. I was trying to help calm things down, and I know that the people that were looting - they don't live in Ferguson. There have been reports that have been released from people who they arrested and they highlighted that, you know, so many of them came from the city of St. Louis, and they weren't actually Ferguson people.

SIEGEL: Well, there have been so many people including Reverend Al Sharpton and local community leaders urging people not to do this. Do you have hopes for tonight at least that it will be quite in Ferguson?

BYNES: I do not think so. Last night there was a another officer-related shooting. I actually live in the apartment complex where that took place. People want answers. They feel like there's a cover-up going on. There was supposed to be an announcement yesterday to release the name of the police officer. That didn't happen. They said they want to stick to standard protocol and only do that if there are charges pressed. So the community is outraged because, Robert, there are some things that are undisputable when it comes to the Mike Brown shooting. This young man was unarmed. This young man was shot multiple times. This young man was shot in the head. There was no ambulance that was called for this young man, and his body laid out in the street for four and a half hours.

SIEGEL: You know, when people demand the name of the police officer - and I gather the response has been they'd be concerned for the safety of the police officer. There might be threats if the police officer were identified.

BYNES: Yes.

SIEGEL: But in a place with population 20,000, I'm a little bit surprised that actually most people don't know who the police officer was. I mean...

BYNES: Robert, I was just going to tell you people in the community have told me who the police is. They know who he is. It's about, I guess, releasing it at the much larger level. But people locally know who the cop is. The kids knew him. They told me that he would harass them all the time.

SIEGEL: Ms. Bynes, thank you very much for talking with us today.

BYNES: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

SIEGEL: Patricia Bynes is a democratic committeewoman for Ferguson Township outside St. Louis.

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