Saying that he’s trying to save the community of Ferguson, Mo., Mayor James Knowles says that he is frustrated and concerned by the tone of Attorney General Eric Holder’s remarks about his city and its police department — both of which were harshly criticized in a recent Justice Department report.
Knowles also says that he sees no reason to step down, as some of his critics have demanded, stating that he still has residents’ support.
The mayor spoke about Ferguson’s response to the Justice report and the renewed calls for his resignation in an interview with All Things Considered co-host Melissa Block on Friday afternoon.
Of the shooting of two officers outside the Ferguson Police Department earlier this week, Knowles says, “As we saw the other night, violence like that is clearly going to set back both sides of this community.”
He adds that tensions have risen in Ferguson, where “officers are concerned for their safety; residents are concerned for their own safety right now.”
Saying that the city of Ferguson is continuing to go over the federal report that found “a pattern of unconstitutional policing,” Knowles says the city’s officials want to work with the federal government.
But he stops short of committing to having a federal monitor oversee what Holder called for: “immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action.”
Knowles tells Melissa, “We also have to recognize that there are financial limitations to what the city can do — and there’s also what many residents in our community want to make sure that the city takes care of along the way.”
Discussing the Justice Department’s findings, Holder has said the federal government would “use all the power” it has to bring change to Ferguson — including dismantling the city’s police department, if that’s necessary.
“My understanding is that he does not have the power to dismantle the Ferguson Police Department,” Knowles says. “He has the power to sue us as a city, into bankruptcy and submission, and whatnot. But as an edict, to just say that the police department can’t operate — my understanding is that he does not have the power to do that.
“That being said,” Knowles continues, “I have been and continue to be open to having a dialogue and work together to find an agreeable solution for all of us. Unfortunately, there continues to be hostile language coming out of the Justice Department — or rather, from Eric Holder, specifically.”
Asked to clarify that remark, Knowles says that when he has spoken with “bureaucrats at the DOJ — and I mean bureaucrats in that they’re lifelong, career DOJ officials — there is a great sense of optimism from them, and from us, about working together. At the same time, I turn on CNN and watch Eric Holder — that’s not the same language the DOJ uses with us. So, I think that is frustrating, and concerning.”
The shootings occurred during a protest spurred by the announcement that Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson is resigning. Many of the protesters have demanded that Knowles should also go.
Activist Montague Simmons of the Organization for Black Struggle tells NPR’s Cheryl Corley, “If the city is really going to experience what we’ve been fighting for, those folks who’ve been maintaining and protecting the institution have to get out of the way.”
Responding to the call for a “clean slate” in Ferguson to help the community start over, Knowles says, “Look, somebody here has to be left standing, to make sure that the government continues to operate.”
Noting that he can be removed from his post by being either voted out of office, impeached, or recalled, Knowles says, “I get, on a daily basis, an enormous amount of support from residents of all backgrounds, ages and races. So, I have not seen any reason why I should step down.”
“I have been committed for the last six months — well, seven months — to making sure that this community hangs together, and bringing this community together. And I’m going to continue to do that. If the people decide that I’m not the person to do that, that’s fine.
“You know, I’m a part-time mayor who has taken a sabbatical from my full-time job that I pay my bills and support my family with, to make sure that this community can come together… and to save this community. I’ve given every last measure at this point, and I will continue to do so, as long as the citizens will have me.”