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, could get the chance to push for institutional change in the city and oversee the very police force whose officer shot her son. She’s running for a spot on Ferguson’s City Council and could be elected Tuesday night.
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 has 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 has 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 is 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 says that her personal experiences make her the right fit to represent Ferguson
McSpadden is in a competitive race in a predominantly black district, and will need to defeat two other candidates to win her seat. Fran Griffin, a black mother and local community organizer who sits on several community boards, is also running for the position, and has the support of some local activists.
McSpadden also faces incumbent council member Keith Kallstrom, who is white. On policing, Kallstrom has backed increasing salaries for officers, and has 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 have more experience in local politics, and McSpadden’s critics argue that she hasn’t been a reliable voice on local issues in the time since she’s moved into the third ward. But Brown’s mother says that she brings 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.
If she does win on Tuesday, McSpadden’s victory would be the latest high-profile electoral success for police reform supporters in Ferguson. Her current campaign has been compared not only to McBath’s political campaign last year, but also the 2018 campaign of Wesley Bell, a former Ferguson City Council member who defeated the incumbent St. Louis County prosecutor, Bob McCulloch — the man who failed to secure an indictment against Wilson in 2014 — last August.
McSpadden says that she wants to bring a change to the city. “It took me a while to figure out how I can be most helpful in returning to some light after being in so much pain,” she recently told Essence, a news outlet geared toward black women. “I’m wanting to save a life, save another child’s future which means helping the children, helping the mothers and helping the families.”