Ella Jones, who has served on the Ferguson City Council since 2015, was elected to become mayor of the city on Tuesday night, becoming its first Black mayor as well as the first woman to ever serve in the role.
Jones, 65, defeated her opponent Heather Robinett, winning 54 percent of the vote to Robinett’s 46 percent.
Ferguson is a city where nearly 7 in 10 residents are Black. When asked what her win represented, Jones responded, “One word: inclusion.”
She also recognized she had her work cut out for her.
“I’ve got work to do — because when you’re an African-American woman, they require more of you than they require of my counterpart,” Jones said. “I know the people in Ferguson are ready to stabilize their community, and we’re going to work together to get it done.”
Jones, who is also a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, first became a member of the city council in 2015. She previously ran for mayor in 2017 against James Knowles III, who was unable to run this year due to term limits.
Jones became involved in local politics after the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, who was shot by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. The city’s residents rose up in protest over Brown’s death — which spread across the country — condemning it as yet another example of racism in local policing practices.
Ferguson gained worldwide notice for the uprising, which continued for months after a grand jury refused to prosecute Wilson for shooting and killing Brown and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) also refused to intervene in the case.
As a result of the protests, former President Barack Obama established a task force charged with producing recommendations for policing in the 21st century. That task force recommended, among other items, that independent prosecutors investigate civilian deaths relating to officer-involved shootings, and that cities remove policies that promote or reward police actions that arrest or convict citizens.
A DOJ report in 2015 found that police targeted Black residents in Ferguson more than they did white residents, doing so as a means to raise revenue.
Jones said that initially she received only timid support from protesters in her city, as many did not view her short tenure on the council at the time as indicative that she could deliver change.
“If you’ve been oppressed so long, it’s hard for you to break out to a new idea,” Jones explained after she lost her first mayoral bid. “And when you’ve been governed by fear and people telling you that the city is going to decline because an African-American person is going to be in charge, then you tend to listen to the rhetoric and don’t open your mind to new possibilities.”
Jones has pledged to continue pushing for reforms in her city that began in the wake of Brown’s killing. Like many other cities across the country, Ferguson has also seen protests over the May 25 killing of George Floyd, after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.