It’s been nearly five years since Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. It was an event that reverberated around the country, driving increased national attention to the ways that police violence affects communities of color, fueling increased calls for police reform and accountability.
On Tuesday, Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, competed in a three-way race for a seat on the Ferguson City Council, a position that would give her the chance to push for institutional change in the city and oversee the very police force whose officer shot her son. McSpadden lost that race, finishing third with roughly 20 percent of the vote.
McSpadden (who sometimes goes by Lezley) formally announced her campaign to represent Ferguson’s Third Ward last August, as she stood steps away from where her son was fatally shot in 2014. “Almost four years ago to this day, I ran down this very street, and my son was covered in a sheet,” McSpadden said during a press conference last year.
She moved into the district shortly before announcing her candidacy, and made her son’s death a central pillar of her campaign, saying that one of her top objectives for the city is to improve police accountability and reform. McSpadden also called for improved community mental health resources, and better after-school programs for local children.
McSpadden is also a member of the “Mothers of the Movement” — a group of black women who have lost children to the police and vigilante violence that played a central role in the national rise of Black Lives Matter. McSpadden was the second woman in this group to run for political office; in 2018, Lucy McBath, whose son Jordan Davis was shot and killed in 2012, won her congressional election in Georgia’s Sixth District.
“I don’t want my children to grow up in a city where what happened to Michael can happen to anyone else,” McSpadden explained in a May 2018 op-ed for the Root months before formally announcing her campaign. “We need to rebuild the entire system from the inside out. The only way that can be done is by having people, like me, who have been harmed by the system working inside it to make the right change that is needed.”
McSpadden said that her personal experiences made her the right fit to represent Ferguson
McSpadden was in a competitive race in a predominantly black district, and needed to defeat two other candidates to win her seat. Fran Griffin, a black mother and local community organizer who sits on several community boards, had the support of some local activists. According to unofficial results, Griffin won the election with nearly 44 percent of the vote.
This means that Griffin unseated the third competitor in the race, incumbent council member Keith Kallstrom. On policing, Kallstrom had backed increasing salaries for officers, and stressed his support of the Ferguson Police Department’s ongoing reform efforts three years after entering a consent decree (a formal police reform agreement) with the Justice Department.
Both of her competitors had more experience in local politics, and McSpadden’s critics argued that she hadn’t been a reliable voice on local issues in the time since she’s moved into the third ward. But Brown’s mother said that she would bring an important perspective to the council. “I wanted to go back and do something right in a place that did something so very wrong to my son, and I think that’s what my son would want as well,” McSpadden said in a recent interview with the Associated Press.
While McSpadden did not win, Griffin’s success in the race does suggest that police reform supporters in Ferguson are continuing to see political success. Last August, Wesley Bell, a black former Ferguson City Council member, defeated the incumbent St. Louis County prosecutor, Bob McCulloch — the man who failed to secure an indictment against Wilson in 2014.
McSpadden says that even with her loss, she will continue to work to bring a change to the city. “I feel proud of the positive race we ran, and I loved talking to the Ferguson community,” she said Tuesday night in an emailed statement, the Associated Press reports. “Tomorrow, the work continues and I intend to be a part of it no matter my position. I’m not going anywhere.”