Republicans are lashing out at activists in Ferguson, Missouri, who are using the protests over the death of Michael Brown -- an unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot by a police officer on Aug. 9 -- as an opportunity to promote civic engagement and mitigate the city's history of low voter turnout and racial disparities in political representation.
Activists set up voter registration tables near a makeshift memorial for Brown and the QuikTrip convenience store that has become a gathering base for protesters. The efforts were organized by local clergy with the help of the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Missouri Republican Party executive director Matt Wills called the actions "disgusting" and told Breitbart News the activists are "fanning the political flames."
"Injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn’t help a continued conversation of justice and peace," Willis told Breitbart News.
Political representation in Ferguson has long been divided along racial lines, and the city has a troubled racial history. Two-thirds of the residents are black, but its mayor and five of its six city council members are white. In addition, only three of Ferguson's 53 police officers are black.
One reason the city's government poorly reflects the demographic makeup could be low voter turnout. Only 12.3 percent of people voted in this year's municipal elections. Turnout was even lower in 2013 and 2012, with 11.7 percent and 8.9 percent voting, respectively. On Sunday, Sharpton decried the dismal turnout in an address at a local church.
"You all have got to start voting and showing up. Twelve percent turnout is an insult to your children," he said.
Local resident Debra Reed, who set up a voter registration tent near the memorial, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch they are "trying to make young people understand that this is how to change things."
Not all Republicans are joining the state GOP director in his opposition to the voter registration efforts -- some are actually denouncing Wills' views. GOP State Sen. Ryan Silvey tweeted that "the 'outrage' over voter registration in Ferguson is dumb. I'd rather they vote than riot."