Sprinkled through a vast amount of breast-beating and finger-pointing about the events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, I’ve found a few good things. ThinkProgress has a good backgrounder on the housing policies that have contributed to the very segregated housing situation in St. Louis and its environs. Segregated housing creates an environment of mutual distrust. People don’t understand each other and they just don’t have the experience to “read” each other.
Megan McArdle points to rapid demographic change as a contributing factor to the problems there:
The answer, after digging into some census data, seems to be massive demographic change. In 1990, the city of Ferguson had 5,589 black citizens and 16,454 white citizens, making it about three-quarters white. By 2000, blacks were a slim majority of the population. And as of 2010, they made up 69 percent of the city, and it seems likely that trajectory has continued over the last four years. This may be part of the “Great Inversion” that seems to be taking place in St. Louis; as the white population begins to reverse its 1950s-era migration to the suburbs, the black population is migrating out toward the suburbs.
The critical message here is that change and rigid public employee work rules are a bad combination. The area in which I spent my early childhood in St. Louis was considerably south and east of Ferguson. Even then that neighborhood was changing and its residents have been almost exclusively black for most of the last half century. Until recently Ferguson, as I’ve mentioned before, was a white, blue collar, some would say red-necked near-in suburb.
In a number of ways the best thing I’ve is from the editors of the Wall Street Journal:
There is little question that some young law-abiding black men are viewed suspiciously by some cops and the motivation may sometimes be race. It is also true that young black men—or rather, young men—commit crimes, often violent and whose victims are also mostly black. Instead of applying a predetermined racial template to every episode, both problems should be treated with the seriousness they deserve, which means judging each case on the merits.
Reality is contingent and fact-specific. That is why the U.S. criminal justice system respects due process and requires the government to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Attorney General Eric Holder, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney in St. Louis are conducting an independent investigation of Brown’s shooting, which will be a tonic to the extent they are fair and impartial.
Ferguson may now show that racial healing and comity are possible even amid great strain. That task belongs above all to the citizens of Ferguson, and it won’t be made any easier if it is exploited by national actors who are able to pack up and leave once the rioting stops.
These are people that we’re writing about and, consequently, they should be treated as ends rather than means. Doing otherwise is immoral. Let’s see what can be done about the problems, learn the lessons, and move forward without depersonalizing any of the parties involved.