News / USA

Shifting Demographics Lie Beneath Racial Tensions in Ferguson

Demonstrators protest the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown across the street from the Ferguson Police Department  in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 23, 2014. Demonstrators protest the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown across the street from the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 23, 2014.
x
Demonstrators protest the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown across the street from the Ferguson Police Department  in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 23, 2014.
Demonstrators protest the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown across the street from the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 23, 2014.
VOA News

After three consecutive nights of relative calm in the Missouri suburb of Ferguson, where a white policeman fatally shot an unarmed black teenager nearly two weeks ago, it appears tensions between protesters and the police are waning.

On Friday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered the state National Guard to withdraw, and there have been no reports of clashes during daily demonstrations sparked by the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. But the apparent easing of tensions hasn’t silenced debate about the deep racial divide that Brown's death thrust into the international spotlight.

To some observers, the incident and surrounding controversy over the so-called "militarization" of Ferguson's police department and its heavy-handed tactics towards African-Americans, come as no surprise.  Population shifts in American communities over the past two decades created the kind of smoldering racial tensions that erupted in Missouri, said Sam Fulwood III, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

"What had been going on in Ferguson as well as in many, many, many other communities all across the country is demographic change, which has been uneven and has been perceived, particularly by people of color in those communities as disadvantageous to them," Fulwood said during an appearance on VOA's Encounter program. "That has bred a long sense of grievance and frustration and anger that is often most exhibited by interactions between youth and police."

And so as Ferguson – a community of 21,000 – slowly morphed from majority white to majority black, those who held power remain the same.

"In 1980, 80 percent of the population in Ferguson was white. In 2010, the population was 85 percent black. So you can see the dramatic changing," Fulwood said. As Ferguson became ever more populated by communities of color, it also became poorer because, Fulwood said, it lost its economic base.

Protesters autograph a sketch of Michael Brown during a protest on August 18, 2014, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Protesters autograph a sketch of Michael Brown during a protest on August 18, 2014, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Suburbanization in the United States has historically been defined by whites moving from cities and their poor, minority communities, taking their economic dominance with them – so-called "white flight." But that narrative no longer applies. 

"We've seen a reversal across the country in recent years – across the country, not just in Ferguson in St. Louis – of the suburbs becoming increasing black and minority populations, communities of color. But they've become poorer," Fulwood said.

And that trend plays out in local politics, leading to situations like Ferguson, where the vast majority of elected officials are white in the majority black community, argues Anthony E. Cook, a law professor at Georgetown University, who also appeared on Encounter.

"When you look at the practices with regard to disenfranchisement, you see common practices throughout the nation," he said. "A lot of the local elections are not held during election year in November, they are held in April, in off months when voter turnout is going to be very difficult anyway."

Cook said voter turnout in the past few elections in Ferguson has been as low as two to five- percent, and those kinds of electoral barriers show that racism, while not enshrined into American law, has nonetheless become institutionalized.

"You're not using race-specific classifications or strategies...no one may be having laws that say no blacks can vote or no blacks can be employed on the school board, but yet the very process by which you have structured the voting system and the means of selecting officers results in disproportionate number of blacks being excluded from the process, and marginalized in that process," he said.

From there, both Fulwood and Cook said it's not hard to connect the dots and see how a Ferguson shooting can happen.

Out of the tragedy of Brown's killing, Cook said, there lies a rare opportunity for Americans

"We have the possibility here of creating a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-ideological bi-partisan approach to dealing with this problem. I see Libertarians that are upset with the militarization of the police force...I see Liberals that are upset that you've got a situation where black minority poor communities are being disproportionately impacted by this brutality," he said.

"This may be an opportunity to raise that to a level of national discourse." 

You May Like

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mike from: Austin
August 24, 2014 3:36 PM
I think it's a little silly to talk about municipal elections being held in April, in non-presidential election years, as if that comprises a plot against black voters. 85% of the population is black, turnout is as low as 2-5%, those figures suggest that there's terminal apathy in the black community. Maybe that will change now.


by: meanbill from: USA
August 24, 2014 9:34 AM
THE QUESTION... I would ask Sharpton and the Brown protesters and rioters is;.. Would they have protested and rioted if Brown's (skin color) was of another race than theirs?.... would they have had any other reason to protest and riot, if Brown was of a different (skin color) and race?

EVERYBODY including them know, they wouldn't have protested and rioted if Brown's (skin color) was of a different race than their (skin color), and that makes why they protested and rioted a racist racial thing, that wouldn't have happened, if Brown had been of a different (skin color) and race, would it have?..... a racist racial response to a police killing?


by: Quinten from: Canada
August 24, 2014 8:26 AM
So what this expert is saying is if the people that are in the majority run candidates and then get themselves out and exercise their right to vote, they could quite easily be in control of the whole municipal government.
Instead of rioting in the streets and LOOTING STORES to get their way.
Because it's always easier to whine and complain than it is to just do the work.
Sounds to me like the system is fine, it's the participants that need to work harder at it.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid