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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs