Tensions In Ferguson Haven’t Changed Because Nothing Else Has Either
Nothing has changed in Ferguson. America just cooled down upon distractions from more recent news, like Kim Kardashian’s butt. However, the conditions that bred the civil unrest in Ferguson still persist.
The shooting is not a one-time incident, but merely the latest event in a pattern of violence that stretches back to slavery.
Missouri was first admitted to the Union as a slave state during the Missouri Compromise. Although a slave-holding mentality obviously does not persist fully to this day, it has shaped ideology in the state, as Puritan ideals have influenced New England.
After emancipation, Missouri and other states created new tactics for oppressing black citizens. Groups like the KKK used unsanctioned violence in place of slavery.
During the Reconstruction years, Missouri wasn’t very different than much of the rest of the nation, as dozens of black citizens were lynched for their skin color.
These overt displays of racism are only the surface of the widespread damage against black people. The most destruction has come through unjust institutional practices.
During the Great Migration and over subsequent generations, blacks have been blocked from “white neighborhoods” and aggressively tracked by real estate agents and neighborhood associations into certain undesirable neighborhoods.
Once blacks were tracked into those neighborhoods, the Federal Housing Authority redlined the areas, which means,
The practice of denying or limiting financial services to certain neighborhoods based on racial or ethnic composition without regard to the residents’ qualifications or creditworthiness. The term ‘redlining’ refers to the practice of using a red line on a map to delineate the area where financial institutions would not invest.
The federal government denied loans to communities mostly comprised of black people.
Without investment, citizens were unable to take out loans to start businesses, purchase their homes or make improvements to their neighborhoods. As a result, the local economy stagnated and neighborhoods deteriorated without outside or grassroots investments.
Additionally, unlike white families that were eventually able to purchase their homes through loan payments, black residents were forced to rent in these neighborhoods, due to high competition. When black people are only allowed to live in one neighborhood, there is always someone willing to occupy the dilapidated residence.
The money black residents paid did not go toward a long-term investment, but rather, to vicious landlords who refused to properly care for the property. As a result, there was stiff competition to rent property that was rapidly devaluing.
With a stagnant economy and denial of home ownership, poor black communities lacked sufficient income and estate taxes to fund public schools and social services. Then, Ronald Reagan’s omnipresent “Welfare Queen” dialogue further delegitimized social services as wasteful uses of government money.
Stereotypes of “black laziness” recycled to promote the slashing of social services so taxes could be cut for the wealthy during trickle-down economics.
Lacking proper funding, the government services that helped folks stay out of poverty withered. Schools failed to prepare students for jobs or college, leaving them without a way to secure a steady income.
In the past, people with limited education could get jobs in local industries, but deindustrialization sent these jobs overseas because workers could be paid much less. Deindustrialization in the 70s and 80s alone removed 32 million jobs for limited-skills workers in America.
Without jobs, many turned desperately to unemployment benefits. But, because of Reagan’s economic policies, these could only help so much. Thus, communities like Ferguson were abandoned by both the free market and the government. Their residents did not have the investments, jobs or education to allow them to move out of poverty.
Faced with no other options, some citizens were forced into lives of crime. Those forced to choose this life were not framed as victims of circumstance, but as thugs, gangsters and menaces to society.
Crime is a vicious cycle, as once one is inevitably arrested, the ex-con label follows wherever he or she goes. Those released from prison are discriminated against in housing, employment and social services. And, as a result, they often are forced back into criminal lives.
But, instead of seeking to redress the various structural inequalities that forced some black people into crime, the government has increased police presence in the high-crime neighborhoods they created. This militarized police force is often, as in Ferguson, comprised primarily of white officers.
Instead of helping the poor communities out of historically poor conditions, the police are punishing citizens for resorting to the only means of survival they have found available.
In some predominantly black communities, like West Garfield Park in Chicago, residents are 42 times more likely to be incarcerated than residents in any other predominantly white communities. In Ferguson, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested than whites.
Such statistics are not unique to one city, as nationally, blacks are five times more likely to be arrested than whites. Black people comprise 40 percent of the prison population, while only forming 13 percent of the total population.
These policies and statistics are not coincidental. They are proven discriminatory practices, carried out by predominantly white groups, against predominantly black groups.
When understanding Ferguson in this context, it is easy to see how racial tensions will persist. The riots after the shooting weren’t the irrational actions of a criminal community. Rather, they were the explosions of decades of simmering frustration.
Mike Brown’s shooting is not an isolated incident, but one that has been made inevitable by the historical treatment of communities like Ferguson. Sadly, this ugliness is not over.
There have been efforts made by the KKK to raise money for Darren Wilson, the police officer who gunned down Brown. Additionally, the Council of Conservative Citizens has a strong presence in Missouri; it claims to be the “the only serious nationwide activist group that sticks up for white rights!”
To accomplish its goal, the CCC promotes “hatred of blacks, Jews, gays and lesbians and Latino immigrants while extolling the virtues of the ‘Southern way of life,’ the Confederacy and even slavery.” Clearly, racism persists in Ferguson and beyond.
A grand jury is in the process of deciding whether or not Darren Wilson is guilty of murder. This is the first step in righting the wrong of this incident. Mike Brown did not deserve to die, regardless of whether he stole cigars, smoked weed or looked “suspicious.”
Wilson must be punished for murdering an unarmed man who defied the odds by graduating from his underfunded high school. The conviction of Officer Wilson is only a baby step in the right direction.
Americans must commit to reversing the legacy of racist policies created by prior generations. If we don’t, historical tensions will continue to reproduce more incidents like Ferguson. Racial tensions aren’t the ideas of a few ignorant individuals; they are the byproduct of generations of discrimination.
The tensions that bubbled to the surface in Ferguson cannot be eased by tweets, petitions or solidarity in the moment. They need to be seen as the legacy of an ugly past that will take decades to reverse. We still have a long way to go.