It does matter what toys the cops get to play with, but the context for their behavior matters more. That’s what it’s worth noting that Ferguson’s police force is almost entirely white, in a city that’s 60 percent black. The same applies to the town’s mayor, city council, and school board. And then there’s the fact that the city itself, as it exists today, was dramatically shaped by the racist housing discrimination practice known as “redlining.” The city’s very geography is the product of racist public policy and business practices.
None of which makes Ferguson unique. Coates begins “The Case for Reparations” with a story of one man’s experience with redlining in Chicago—just one more example out of millions.
Nor is this the first time that America’s long history of racial oppression has set the stage for confrontations with the police. The 1967 Kerner Commission, established by President Johnson to explore the root causes behind the race riots of the 1960s, placed America’s racial caste system at the center of their analysis. When historian Blair L.M. Kelley writes that “Ferguson is America,” she’s not wrong.
And like Ferguson, America is a place stricken with far more than just police militarization. If we’re going to even begin to ameliorate this country’s root-deep racial inequities, we need to do more than relieve the police of their grenade launchers. We need to remedy centuries of malicious practices that have etched themselves into the topography of this nation.
The outpouring of anger on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown is partly a reaction to a long history of marginalization experienced by African-Americans, a process exacerbated by gentrification, argue experts. It should be no surprise, they say, that the latest racial flashpoint is not in the inner-city but in the modern suburb.
Ferguson is an outer suburb of St. Louis, the 16th fastest gentrifying city in the U.S., according to Census data. Not unrelatedly, a 2011 study by Brown University showed that the St. Louis metropolitan area was the 19th most segregated city in the U.S.
The social and economic inequality in the St. Louis area, which is divided along racial lines, is a microcosm of a problem playing out across the U.S.: Wealthier, typically white residents move into a previously economically disadvantaged neighborhood in the city, pricing out black families and displacing them to suburban outskirts, according to a recent Brookings report.
In 2008, the population of poor people in suburbs across the nation grew twice as fast as in city centers, the report said. By 2008, U.S. suburbs were home to the largest share of the nation’s poor.