Economic Policy Institute Report
The Making of Ferguson: Public Policies at the Root of its Troubles
In August 2014, a Ferguson, Missouri, policeman shot and killed an unarmed black teenager. Michael Brown’s death and the resulting protests and racial tension brought considerable attention to that town. Observers who had not been looking closely at our evolving demographic patterns were surprised to see ghetto conditions we had come to associate with inner cities now duplicated in a formerly white suburban community: racially segregated neighborhoods with high poverty and unemployment, poor student achievement in overwhelmingly black schools, oppressive policing, abandoned homes, and community powerlessness.
Media accounts of how Ferguson became Ferguson have typically explained that when African Americans moved to this suburb (and others like it), “white flight” followed, abandoning the town to African Americans who were trying to escape poor schools in the city. The conventional explanation adds that African Americans moved to a few places like Ferguson, not the suburbs generally, because prejudiced real estate agents steered black homebuyers away from other white suburbs. And in any event, those other suburbs were able to preserve their almost entirely white, upper-middle-class environments by enacting zoning rules that required only expensive single family homes, the thinking goes.
No doubt, private prejudice and suburbanites’ desire for homogenous affluent environments contributed to segregation in St. Louis and other metropolitan areas. But these explanations are too partial, and too conveniently excuse public policy from responsibility. A more powerful cause of metropolitan segregation in St. Louis and nationwide has been the explicit intents of federal, state, and local governments to create racially segregated metropolises.
Many of these explicitly segregationist governmental actions ended in the late 20th century but continue to determine today’s racial segregation patterns. In St. Louis these governmental policies included zoning rules that classified white neighborhoods as residential and black neighborhoods as commercial or industrial; segregated public housing projects that replaced integrated low-income areas; federal subsidies for suburban development conditioned on African American exclusion; federal and local requirements for, and enforcement of, property deeds and neighborhood agreements that prohibited resale of white-owned property to, or occupancy by, African Americans; tax favoritism for private institutions that practiced segregation; municipal boundary lines designed to separate black neighborhoods from white ones and to deny necessary services to the former; real estate, insurance, and banking regulators who tolerated and sometimes required racial segregation; and urban renewal plans whose purpose was to shift black populations from central cities like St. Louis to inner-ring suburbs like Ferguson.
Governmental actions in support of a segregated labor market supplemented these racial housing policies and prevented most African Americans from acquiring the economic strength to move to middle-class communities, even if they had been permitted to do so.
White flight certainly existed, and racial prejudice was certainly behind it, but not racial prejudice alone. Government policies turned black neighborhoods into overcrowded slums and white families came to associate African Americans with slum characteristics. White homeowners then fled when African Americans moved nearby, fearing their new neighbors would bring slum conditions with them.
That government, not mere private prejudice, was responsible for segregating greater St. Louis was once conventional informed opinion. A federal appeals court declared 40 years ago that “segregated housing in the St. Louis metropolitan area was … in large measure the result of deliberate racial discrimination in the housing market by the real estate industry and by agencies of the federal, state, and local governments.” Similar observations accurately describe every other large metropolitan area. This history, however, has now largely been forgotten.
When we blame private prejudice, suburban snobbishness, and black poverty for contemporary segregation, we not only whitewash our own history but avoid considering whether new policies might instead promote an integrated community. The federal government’s response to the Ferguson “Troubles” has been to treat the town as an isolated embarrassment, not a reflection of the nation in which it is embedded. The Department of Justice is investigating the killing of teenager Michael Brown and the practices of the Ferguson police department, but aside from the president’s concern that perhaps we have militarized all police forces too much, no broader inferences from the events of August 2014 are being drawn by policymakers.
The conditions that created Ferguson cannot be addressed without remedying a century of public policies that segregated our metropolitan landscape. Remedies are unlikely if we fail to recognize these policies and how their effects have endured.
About the author
Richard Rothstein (email@example.com) is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and senior fellow of the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.
FOR THE FULL REPORT http://www.epi.org/publication/making-ferguson/
In the Spirit of Wyomia Tyus, Women Athletes Say #BlackLivesMatter
Wyomia Tyus was the first person in history to win the 100-meter gold in consecutive Olympics, accomplishing this feat in 1964 and 1968. Tyus also showed a remarkable bravery in the tumultuous, dramatic Mexico City Olympics of 1968, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the medal stand. After anchoring the women’s gold-medal winning 4×100 relay team to victory, Ms. Tyus said, “I’d like to say that we dedicate our relay win to John Carlos and Tommie Smith.” She did this at tremendous personal risk, and despite the fact that the “revolt of the black athlete,” as it was known, made no outreach to those black athletes who happened to be women. Tyus commented years later, “It appalled me that the men simply took us for granted. They assumed we had no minds of our own and that we’d do whatever we were told.” She was one of several black women who were supportive of the athletic revolution in the 1960s, but denied a seat at the table.
As we find ourselves at the start of new black freedom struggle that’s ricocheting into the world of sports, the voices of athletic women had before this weekend largely been silent. This despite the fact that the first athlete to speak out on the field of play wasn’t Derrick Rose or LeBron James. It was Ariyana Smith at Knox College, who on November 29 lay down on the court for four and a half minutes before the start of a game to symbolize the four and a half hours Michael Brown was left in the street after being killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson. This despite the fact that there would be no #BlackLivesMatter moment without the fearless leadership of black women. If you only know of this struggle from snippets on the news, please know that Al Sharpton is not leading this struggle. It is young black women in Ferguson on the front lines. It is young black women at Howard and young black women leading groups like #ThinkMoor sitting in at Union Station and blocking freeways in DC. It is young black women who led the organizing at Saturday’s march in New York City. It is young black women taking the mic in DC from Sharpton and demanding to be heard.
Yet other than Ariyana Smith and a tweet from Serena Williams, women athletes had not been heard. This changed in dramatic fashion on Saturday, first when the women at Notre Dame took the court wearing the now iconic “I Can’t Breathe” shirts. This was organized by forward Taya Reimer, who said that the team felt pushed to act after a die-in took place on their South Bend, Indiana, campus.
“A few of us talked about it and we thought wearing these shirts for the game would be a cool way to show our support and give our condolences to families that have lost someone,” she said.
Notre Dame’s renowned coach Muffet McGraw then spoke out in support, using words that should be put on a poster.
“I was really proud of our team, especially Taya, to publicly stand for something you believe in. I think one of the things I try to teach them is you’ve got to fight. You’ve got to fight for playing time. You’ve got to fight to win a national championship. You have to be willing to stand up and fight and you have to be accountable…. I want to have strong, confident women who are not afraid to use their voice and take a stand.”
McGraw and her staff wore all-black in a show of solidarity with their players.
Then there were the women basketball players at Cal-Berkeley. After a full week of intense protests in Berkeley, complete with tear gas and undercover police brandishing guns amidst demonstrators, the players felt compelled to act.
As forward Brittany Boyd tweeted, “Planned to wear shirts at home next wk.After today’s events in Berkeley,entire team came 2my hotel room&said we need to act 2day.”
They also had full support from their coach Lindsay Gottleib, who tweeted, “Proud to coach a group with a social & moral consciousness.They proactively seek ways to find their voice and use their platform.”
The Cal players did not wear “I Can’t Breathe” shirts. Instead, they did something both deeply affecting and more in the old DIY activist traditions of their school. On the front of their T-shirts, they put silver duct tape and wrote the name of a black person killed by either police or by lynching. On the back, they wrote “Black lives matter” and “We are Cal WBB.”
After the game, a loss to Long Beach State, Coach Gottleib released a statement that read:
I’m a basketball coach, and I’m competitive and winning is important. Our standards at Cal are high, and of course losing this game is disappointing. That said, however, I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of these players or our whole team and staff. As student-athletes at Cal, our young women have a voice and a platform, and they chose to use it today. They want to be part of a solution, and they took the steps that were in their power today.
The proud push by women athletes to project #BlackLivesMatter should be a cause to recognize the indispensable leadership role of black women in this movement. It should also push us to remember all the sports women in history who sought a place in the struggle only to be disrespected and dismissed. Wyomia Tyus arguably ran the best anchor leg of any sprinter in US Olympic history. Finally, after forty-six years, she gets to pass the baton.
About the author
Dave Zirin is a contributor to The Nation http://www.thenation.com/blogs/dave-zirin/ and creator Edge of Sports: The Weekly Sports Column http://www.edgeofsports.com/
“Signed…An Educated Brother!”