That’s a question to which I don’t have a ready answer.
Like a lot of people in the United States over the past few days, I’ve found it hard to not continue to check up on the news coming out of Ferguson, MO. One fact that everyone must have heard by now is that the population of Ferguson is 67% black while few than 6% of the police officers in Ferguson are black. By comparison, the City of Baltimore, which has a population that is 64% black and has also had a history of tensions with the police, had, in 2006, a police force which was 43% African-American. Baltimore still has plenty of problems and no one thinks that the city doesn’t need improvement in matters pertaining to race, but over the past several decades measurable progress has been made. Baltimore has also had several African-American mayors.
How did this dramatic difference in the racial make-up of the town versus the racial make-up of the police force and city government come about?
This is, as I said, a question, not an answer.
A post on the Democratic Underground referred to Ferguson as a teachable moment in why it is important to vote, but why are people not voting?
There are a few things that may, or may not be, contributing factors.
First of all, while the population of Ferguson has been stable for several decades, the racial demographics have changed dramatically in the past twenty-five years. In 1990, 74% of Ferguson was white and the African-American population was 25%. “White flight” is something I didn’t think happened that much anymore. Is that what has happened or is it something else? While the median age is younger than the rest of the U.S., it was only by two years.
Regarding age, the African-American population is younger and that could be a contributing factor. Another possible factor could be the matter of voting rights for felons. The racial disparities in our justice system are bad enough on their own. When this is combined with the disenfranchisement of people convicted of a felony it can serve to disenfranchise the black population more generally. However, Missouri does not permanently ban former felons from voting. Interestingly, it is one of only eight states that does not permit people to vote while incarcerated for a misdemeanor. It would be worth looking into whether or not that policy can have a significant effect on election results.
A professor at the University of Iowa, Colin Gordon, has identified the mobile nature of the black population in the St. Louis area as a factor in the lack of political leverage.
As Mr. Gordon explains, many black residents, lacking the wealth to buy property, move from apartment to apartment and have not put down political roots. (The New York Times)
It seems that the name Ferguson is going to turn into a word for something else. What, we don’t yet know.
Update: There was some interesting information relating to this on Daily Kos: Ferguson’s Election Turnout Is Terrible by Design. If the media spotlight hadn’t been turned out the town, most of us would have never known that situations like this exist. It makes one wonder how many other towns have similar situations.