THE BLOG
10/14/2014 11:03 am ET Updated Dec 14, 2014

Turning Out the Vote Should Be the Focus of Ferguson October

For eight weeks, there have been protests in Ferguson, Missouri related to the shooting death of Michael Brown by the Ferguson Police Department. This weekend, protesters have organized a series of marches they are calling a "Weekend of Resistance," during which they are asking for, among other things, the resignation of St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch.

While much of the media attention has faded, the continued efforts of these citizens attempting to shine a light on the racial injustice present in their community is still a very important endeavor. The reality is that there are countless government policies that either unfairly target or negatively impact the ability of the African-American community to achieve the American Dream.

Regardless of how successful protests like the one in Ferguson are at changing public opinion, the best way to combat the systemic inequality that plagues all levels of government is to vote.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said during the civil rights movement "So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind -- it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact -- I can only submit to the edict of others."

If the residents of Ferguson want to end the abuse by the police department that results in black residents comprising 93 percent of arrests, they need to turn out for local elections at higher rates than their conservative counterparts. This disparity has left a community that is 67 percent black with a white mayor, an all white school board, 5 white council members out of 6 and only 3 black police officers in a force of 53.

Ferguson is hardly the only place in the U.S. with discriminatory government policies.

In Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich, the Republican Secretary of State, and a Republican legislature passed numerous voting restrictions that have been shown to negatively affect minorities' ability to vote.

In New York, despite the fact that whites make up more than 57 percent of the population, they only account for around 10 percent of those stopped and frisked.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican legislature handed corporations a large tax, even though the business savvy governor couldn't prove it would add jobs. To pay for this tax cut, Republicans increased taxes on almost 50 percent of Michigan residents, including cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit that even Republican economists say is an efficient way to reduce poverty.

The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world that spends less on schools serving poor students than on those serving well off students.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott started treating welfare recipients like criminals by forcing them to take a drug test to receive benefits. That policy that seems hypocritical for a man who oversaw one of the largest instances of Medicare fraud in U.S. history.

Across the country, white youth are more likely to use drugs, yet black youth are twice as likely to be arrested for drug use.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett cut education funding while making a voucher system and an expansion of charter schools core aspects of his education policy in spite of the fact that neither has been shown to improve educational outcomes. They do, however, benefit rich corporate donors who back Corbett.

In L.A, when stopped on the street or ordered out of their car, blacks were arrested 166 percent more than whites.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry refused the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid, even though his state ranks No. 1 in the country with the most uninsured residents.

These examples represent only a small fraction of the inequality of our political system. But speaking out about bad policies and demanding change is only effective when people show up to the polls and hold politicians responsible for their actions. With the 2014 elections less than a month away it is time for those who routinely get the short end of the stick to come out in force and add some diversity to every level of government.

Previously published in the Detroit News.