Policy and Change

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.

11 comments… add one
  • And good work by whoever made the administrative decision to send that man into that situation.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I’m not sure how relevant that ThinkProgress post about the history of segregation given McArdle’s post on substantial changes and population movement within the last 20 years. McArdle’s hypothesis of the “Great Inversion” doesn’t seem likely for St. Louis; the city does not have a wealth of young professionals drawn to Wall Street and Federal government jobs. I am aware of residential development in the garment district, but those are upper story condos being created in unused warehouses.

    Within the last twenty years about 10,000 whites left, and 10,000 blacks came to Ferguson. For a city of around 21,000 that’s a huge turnover. Cities can decline, but many of their homes usually become vacant. Movement can be related to increased money, which I think is what McArdle is getting at. It may be more useful to know who the blacks are, where they are from, and what their expectations have been.

  • I don’t believe that the ThinkProgress piece is completely irrelevant. I guess my key point is that I think these things need to be considered in combination.

    Yes, it’s clear that rapid demographic change coupled with slow police turnover makes for a difficult situation. But another component of that difficulty is mutual ignorance. The Ferguson police force could be composed entirely of guys from South St. Louis who’ve never known any black people socially. That’s something that racial housing patterns fosters. All of the blacks they may have encountered may have been in their, er, professional capacities.

  • steve Link

    Sounds like a combination of local issues and some national ones. Hope you read Rand Paul’s piece in Time. At any rate, people put up with a lot of stuff before they riot. Seems likely this does represent long term issues. I think we can expect everyone to ry to use it for their own purposes to make a point. It would be nice to see changes that make it less likely this could happen again.


  • PD Shaw Link

    I think a lot of St. Louis issues go back to the City seceding from the County in 1877, blocking a more natural expansion which would have seen Ferguson become a neighborhood in the central city, instead of a small city without the funding for the community services required of an urban location.

    As you pointed out in a previous thread, the demand for black officers is high, and according to the Mayor they are constantly outrecruited by other County that can pay more. I would not be shocked if Chesterfield, MO (median household income $95,006) has more black officers than Ferguson ($36,121).

  • PD Shaw Link

    “urban” might seem like a code word for “race,” but a city of 22,000 surrounded by farm land is going to have a certain level of crime that is far different from a city of 22,000 surrounded by other cities. Crime doesn’t naturally stop at city lines, and people are constantly moving through cities in a metro, so the risks being policed are of greater magnitude.

  • Hope you read Rand Paul’s piece in Time.

    It might be narrow-minded and shortsighted of me but I try to avoid reading anything by someone named Rand.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I’ve not been able to satisfy my curiosity about the minority representation in the Chesterfield police force. I was able to find out that salaries start at $52,531 plus benefits, and they have a minority recruiting program.

    Chesterfield is also a St. Louis County suburb, but it high income and about 2.5% African-American. I have an aunt who lives there (teacher) and Keith Hernandez used to live down the street from her. It’s quite possible, even likely, that Chesterfield has more African-American police officers than Ferguson.

    Is it a good thing that Chesterfield recruits minorities? The reason it would recruit minorities is different than the reason Ferguson might. Ferguson might feel policing requires community relations as an important component. Chesterfield might just feels white, liberal guilty, or a desire to fend off accusations of racism when African-Americans encounter the police at the largest mall in Missouri. I think one is more important than the other, but I’m not sure if we have a ready policy vehicle to say that Chesterfield cannot recruit minorities, or an African-American cop that gets promoted in Ferguson cannot leave for better pastures (both monetary and the type of personal risk entailed).

  • But even leadership is useless if no one wants to follow, and after last bght it is clear too few want peace.

  • jan Link

    The right balance never seems to be reached in situations like Ferguson. For one thing race seems to trump behavior — the premise being that if you’re black you’re automatically a victim given the right to loot and plunder in order to satisfy any perceived injustice accorded to someone else of your same ethnicity.

    It’s baffling to me how law enforcement has acted, too, resorting to a bi-polar kind of mentality. First they patrol the streets in an intimidating military fashion which is soundly criticized. Then they shrink into the woodwork, as businesses are ravaged, being nothing more than a passive presence watching crimes committed in front of their eyes.

    This is so reminiscent of the aftermath events following the Rodney King verdict, in which I think the same catchy phrase, “No justice, no peace” was used to ignite the passions of the people, as well as burn and loot businesses at will.

    What is the point, though, of taking a town or neighborhood down, killing jobs, along with trust and incentives to even start a business near a place seething with so much animosity that can turn into spontaneous violence, at the turn of a dime? After all, owning, building, and running a business is tough enough, without having to add in the erratic nature of a demographic taking vengeful glee in using your market or hardware store as a destructive ground zero to opportunistically act out.

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