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

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    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.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora