(Correction: An earlier version of this article said activist Erika Totten was in attendance at the Ferguson meeting. She was not.)
After a dinner meeting with 10 young activists in Ferguson, Mo., members of the Congressional Black Caucus are looking for ways to empower the Ferguson activist community. Eleven members of the caucus met with the activists Jan. 17, including leaders from the Organization for Black Struggle and activists Deray McKesson and Johnetta Elzie.
Several members in attendance described the dinner meeting as blunt and emotional. At one point, an activist broke into tears while describing treatment received by police in Ferguson. The discussion went on past midnight.
“That dinner meeting was powerful. They [the members] heard it. They got an earful from those young people about how bad it is. They spoke on how they felt that the civil rights movement had failed them and talked on the abuse they are still taking from the criminal-justice system,” Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) told The Root days after the CBC visit to his district.
“The next step is for the Congressional Black Caucus Institute to get behind a massive effort to educate the voters of Ferguson. It’s a community of 21,000 people, 67 percent African American; we have the numbers, and the map works for them having a voice in local government,” Clay added.
Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who attended the Ferguson dinner, stressed during an interview with The Root, “We can’t tell them what to do” but “we can help them with what they want to do.”
Members of the CBC pledged to sponsor several young activists from Ferguson for the next CBC Political and Education Leadership Institute Boot Camp. The CBC Institute, started in 2002, has an annual political-leadership boot camp that focuses on leadership development, political campaigns and issue advocacy. In July, 55 young people graduated from the boot camp. Members can sponsor boot camp students with their campaign funds.
“Rep. Joyce Beatty [D-Ohio] agreed to sponsor one of the activists who attended the dinner at the CBC Institute boot camp. We’re gonna have about 15 of these young people in our boot camp from Ferguson,” Clay said.
There is also talk of having the next CBC Institute boot camp in Ferguson rather than in Maryland near Washington, D.C., but that has yet to be decided.
Clay said the dinner meeting “was very positive, and it wasn’t really slamming the police, but it’s letting them know: OK, we’re watching you. We’re gonna take direct action legislatively to correct some of these gross inequities in the administration of justice.”
Members of the CBC also met with Dorian Johnson, a friend of Michael Brown who was with Brown Aug. 9 when now-former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shot him to death. Inexplicably, Johnson did not testify before the grand jury that would later fail to indict Wilson.
Several Ferguson City Council candidates also attended the dinner meeting with the CBC. On April 7, three seats on the council are up for election. Currently, the six-person council has only one African American: Ward 2 Councilman Dwayne James. There is an African-American candidate running for each of the three seats on the ballot. In Ward 3, both candidates are African American.
A rumor that Michael Brown’s mother, Leslie McSpadden, has decided to run for a City Council seat may be false, although McSpadden was said to be mulling it over.
CBC member Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), currently the top fundraiser of the 46-member caucus, brought a check to the dinner meeting for each City Council candidate at the gathering. A more detailed fundraising plan is being thought out.
“We have filled the candidates in those seats, and we will be going out in each of the three wards in Ferguson, educating the voters on the importance of them having a voice in their local government,” said Clay.
CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield told The Root on the night of the State of the Union that the caucus will soon unveil a detailed criminal-justice legislative plan.
Last week, two House members, Clay and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), introduced the Grand Jury Reform Act. The bill would require an independent prosecutor in police-involved killings. The chances of passage in a Republican-controlled House and Senate are slim. In December, President Barack Obama created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing to make policy recommendations on Ferguson-related issues. It will announce its recommendations in March.