MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And now we're joined by the mayor of Ferguson, James Knowles. Welcome to the program.
MAYOR JAMES KNOWLES: Thank you for having me.
BLOCK: Let me ask you first about the shooting of the two police officers in Ferguson this week. Are you concerned about further escalation of tension and violence there?
KNOWLES: What we're concerned about is this is clearly a setback. We've working very hard for seven months to try to create a dialogue and bring this community together, to be able to talk to all segments of the community, especially segments of the community that feel that they've been either underrepresented or underserved. And obviously that's very important for us to help bridge that gap. But, you know, as we saw the other night, you know, the violence like that is clearly going to set back, you know, both sides of this community. And unfortunately, you know, right now we're - we can't - we can't be pulled apart. We've got to be moving forward together.
BLOCK: Well, let's turn to the report that was issued by the Justice Department last week. First, is the city prepared to settle with justice and allow a federal monitor to oversee reforms in Ferguson or do you think you're going to fight?
KNOWLES: Well, I think the city is going to continue to go through that report. We're willing to engage the Justice Department. We've engaged several different experts right now as far as how we can move forward. And so we're going to sit down with the Justice Department and talk about what the issues are and what are the possible reforms that we can do and see what that means for our community. And, you know, our hope is to be able to find an amicable agreement to move forward with. We have been, all along, very open and transparent. Maybe one of the only good things that the Justice Department said about us is that they said we were extremely cooperative. And, frankly, I was told we were very much more cooperative than in most communities that fall under this microscope. And so we also want to be cooperative about talking about reforms and how we can move this community forward, how we can make this police department a professional police department that everyone will is fair and equitable. And so we want to work together with the Justice Department, but we also have to recognize that there's financial limitations to what the city can do. And there's also what many residents in our community want make sure that the city takes care of along the way.
BLOCK: Well, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the government would use all the power it has, including dismantling the Ferguson Police Department if necessary. Would you agree to that?
KNOWLES: Well, first of all, my understanding is that he does not have the power to dismantle the Ferguson Police Department. He has the power to sue us as a city into bankruptcy and submission and whatnot. But as an edict to just say that the police department cannot operate, I don't - my understanding of the law is that he does not have the power to do that. That being said, I have been and continue to be open to having a dialogue and work together to find an agreeable solution for all of us. Unfortunately, there continues to be hostile language coming out of the Justice Department, or rather from Eric Holder specifically.
BLOCK: So you consider that language hostile, not helpful to the process?
KNOWLES: Well, I can tell you that the conversations that I had with bureaucrats at DOJ - and I mean bureaucrats in the term that they are lifelong, career DOJ officials. There is a great sense of optimism from them and from us about working together. At the same time, I turn on CNN and watch Eric Holder. That's not the same language the DOJ uses with us. So I think that is, you know, frustrating and concerning. But we have worked very well with a lot of the DOJ investigators and we hope to be able to continue to move forward with some of them.
BLOCK: The overall conclusion of the Justice Department report is that this wasn't the case of just a few bad apples. Instead, they called it a deeply-embedded system of racial bias, intentional discrimination that went all the way to the top and that has driven both police practices and court practices in Ferguson. Do you accept that overall assessment?
KNOWLES: I think there's a lot of things in that report that, you know, that I would agree with that are very concerning. And that's why we've continued, you know, obviously, to see that - you've seen the changes we've made. And we're going to continue to examine where the breakdown in the process has been and make changes accordingly. There's a lot of great men and women who work at that police department. I don't think that it's fair to say that they're all bad apples. There's a lot of great men and women who work here at the city of Ferguson. I don't know that it's a fair assessment to lump everyone together.
BLOCK: We've seen the resignations in recent days of the Ferguson police chief, the city manager and others, including the municipal court judge. You've heard the calls for you to step down as mayor as well. Would it be better for Ferguson to have a completely clean slate?
KNOWLES: Well, look, somebody here has to be left standing to make sure that the government continues to operate. There is - there is ways to get rid of me as mayor. You can vote me out. You know, they could have me impeached. They can recall me. So they have options. I get, on a daily basis, an enormous amount of support from residents of all backgrounds, ages and races. And so I have not seen any reason why I should step down. You know, I'm a part-time mayor who has taken a sabbatical from my full-time job that I pay my bills and support my family with to make sure that this community can come together, to bring this community together and to save this community. I've given every less measure at this point. I will continue to do so as long as the citizens will have me.
BLOCK: Mayor Knowles, from your perspective, is Ferguson being made a scapegoat for problems that are - that go well beyond Ferguson - probably well beyond Missouri?
KNOWLES: Well, I think if you read the footnotes of the Justice Department report that are strewn all about that says that these issues are not just in Ferguson but there are communities all around Ferguson, communities all around St. Louis, communities all around Missouri and, I'm sure, in America. We're 1 of 60 policing agencies in St. Louis County. We have 22,000 residents out of the 2.5 million person metro region. And we're the only ones being held accountable. So I wouldn't understand why that is.
BLOCK: Mayor Knowles, thanks for talking with us.
KNOWLES: All right. Thank you.
BLOCK: That's James Knowles, the mayor of Ferguson, Mo.
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