The mayor of Ferguson, Missouri, said Friday that he has no plans to join the cascade of top local officials stepping down in the aftermath of a scathing federal report alleging racially biased policing.
In an interview with Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, Mayor James Knowles III said that the resignations or firings of six city officials implicated in the scandal have given the troubled city the clean slate it needs to begin the reforming itself. Some in the community have demanded a recall election.
"There’s ways for them to remove me if they so choose. But right now this community needs leadership," Knowles said. "This community needs someone who is going to stay around and work toward bringing us together, moving us forward. And I’ve committed to doing that. And so has the rest of the city council."
He also disagreed that most city police officers targeted black residents unfairly. "I don't think that the individual officers were out there looking to affect African Americans any differently than they were white Americans," he said.
"We've seen that there's been some bad apples out there, but I don't think that is indicative of the entire police department," Knowles said.
Since the release of the Department of Justice report last week, Police Chief Thomas Jackson and City Manager John Shaw have stepped down, municipal court Judge Judge Ronald Brockmeyer was replaced, and top court clerk Mary Ann Twitty was fired. Two local police officers also resigned.
All of them were implicated in the report, which chronicled a local justice system that habitually violated citizens’ civil rights and valued court revenue over safety, with black residents bearing the brunt of the abuses.
DOJ investigators uncovered a pattern of unfair traffic stops, questionable arrests, unreasonable use of force and a disregard for free speech. The probe revealed a series of racist emails sent by Ferguson officers.
The investigation was prompted by the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, by police officer Darren Wilson, who is white. The shooting led to days of looting and violent protests. A grand jury’s refusal to indict Wilson touched off another round of unrest in November.
Demonstrations continued after the DOJ report’s release, and on Wednesday night two police officers were shot outside police headquarters. They survived are expected to fully recover.
Knowles told Holt that the shootings would "create a climate that is going to be difficult to get past." But he stressed that he and other town leaders are committed to implementing many of the reforms recommended in the DOJ report.
"I met with some residents today and the sentiment out there is we want to come together, we want to move forward. And hopefully we can still do that," Knowles said.
Knowles said an effort to push him out of office would set the city back. "A recall election will only serve to divide the community," he said. "But if that is the will of the people then so be it. But right now I'm focused on moving this community forward."