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Mayor of Dellwood, Which Neighbors Ferguson: Setting an Example for How to Build Community

Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones

When the killing of Mike Brown by a Ferguson police officer led to individuals damaging businesses, Reggie Jones, the African-American mayor of Dellwood, was concerned that what was happening would spill over. In fact, the St. Louis suburb’s border is only two blocks from the QuikTrip that was set on fire on August 9, the day of Brown’s death.

Jones sent a letter to residents that he said the city of about 5,200 people appreciated because they were worried. The first paragraph stated:

The tragic events of the past few days have left a family of a young man in mourning, a community looking for answers, and a nation looking for justice. While most are focused on peaceful protest, some have chosen violence. While we may understand their anger, we cannot condone their actions. While much of the media attention has been focused on neighboring Ferguson, we had businesses vandalized here in Dellwood as well. These were crimes of opportunity by persons from outside of our community trying to take advantage of the situation.

In total, 22 businesses were damaged in the first few days after Brown was killed. None of the businesses suffered structural damage, but windows were broken and businesses had to board up them up.

Leaving Dellwood vulnerable to more damage was not what the mayor wanted. “I made an order to our police department not to leave our city under any circumstances,” Jones told Firedoglake in an interview.

This also meant his police force would no longer be part of the massive police presence in Ferguson, which was controlling and cracking down on protests each night with tear gas, rubber bullets, smoke bombs, etc.

During the interview, Jones contrasted the Dellwood police with Ferguson police and detailed how Dellwood has embraced “community policing.”

“I think with Ferguson, why they’re experiencing this problem is because they didn’t make that connection previously with the community, especially that community back there in the apartment complex [where Brown was shot by the officer]. So, you have a situation like this. It just blows up,” Jones said.

In Dellwood, a “citizens academy” was started for residents. They graduate, receive certificates and shirts and then can volunteer at events to essentially help keep the peace. It “brings the community closer to the police department,” according to Jones.

The police chief in Dellwood has also apparently issued an order to have each officer meet one new person each week and file a report on who they met. This is “another way to ensure the officer is talking to people” and “getting to know residents.”

If you know the people, you are policing then you don’t have as much fear of what those people are going to do. Fear seems to have been a huge contributing factor to the arrests and police violence that have unfolded in the past weeks. So, Jones said that the city makes an attempt to make sure the relationship between the community and police is not a “me against you” relationship.

Jones agreed that it is a problem that, in addition to being a predominantly white police force, most Ferguson police officers do not live in Ferguson. That makes it difficult to build a good rapport with members of the community.

Ferguson residents have a lot of animosity toward their municipal court system, which many believe exploits and takes advantage of them.

Jones acknowledged that there are people in Dellwood, who get caught up in the court system, but he added, “I don’t have any red light cameras. I don’t have any speeding cameras.” The city also doesn’t do sobriety checks.

The city of Ferguson has red light cameras that were installed in August 2011.

“We don’t do those kind of things, which frustrate residents,” Jones asserted. “Those kind of things create a bad relationship between government and residents when you have all these kind of things you are constantly using—and for revenue purposes—but seventy percent of the time you’re frustrating people.”

“I believe in good old-fashioned policing. Pull you over with a radar, and write you a ticket,” Jones added. “True, we can put a camera up and boost revenue, but I just don’t think that’s necessary because, again, you create that bad relationship with your residents and your police or even your government when you start doing that.”

Jones has been the mayor since April 2013. He ran based on a vision of uniting the city because there had been a “big political fight” that had divided it. He put forward a platform that included listening to more voices in the community and, according to him, city council meetings now have “great attendance” with people coming out to see how government is operating and what is going on.

“We don’t have a problem with homelessness,” Jones suggested, when asked about poverty. “We’re a middle class neighborhood. We don’t have any apartments in Dellwood. No apartment complex. All houses. So, we haven’t really experienced any homelessness issues.”

The Dellwood community is 80% African-American, 20% Caucasian, but, like other St. Louis suburbs, it has not always been like that.  A big demographic shift began in the 1990s.

Like many who have observed and been involved in what was happening, Jones contended that what Ferguson residents need to learn is to vote in their city’s elections. The city is nearly 70% African-American and there is only one black on the city council. There are only three black police officers. Yet, in the last election, voter turnout was 12%.

“They don’t like the prosecutor but he just got voted back in two weeks ago. They want him removed from the case but he is newly elected – again,” Jones said. [*Note: St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch won his primary on August 5th.]

It is hard to live in a town where 70% are African-Americans but “that 70% doesn’t have any representation,” yet, Jones continued, that is “mainly their fault. They need to get out to vote.”

“I appoint the city attorney. I appoint the prosecutor. I appoint the judge. I appoint the city clerk. I appoint the city manager. So I decide a lot of what the staff is going to look like.” And, “If you are electing a Caucasian male or female, most times they are going to elect people they are comfortable with and most likely it’s going to be someone Caucasian.”

When only 10-12% of people are involved in voting and engaging in government, the city is going to respond to that percent.

Although it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a white government in Ferguson would continue to ignore the will of people if they were engaged, it seems reasonable to believe that this dynamic would not last long if people continued to struggle for power.

In any case, it does seem under Jones’ leadership that attempts have been made to no longer have intense conflict between residents and the city government and its police force. Jones’ insights may be a starting point for those, who do not want to return to how things were before Brown was killed, because they feel enough is enough and they’re not going to tolerate being disrespected in their community anymore.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."