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 Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    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.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora