In an op-ed published in the St. Louis Dispatch, Gregory Squires, a Sociologist for Justice member and George Washington University sociology and public policy professor, argues that uneven development and residential segregation contribute to racial tensions between police and black communities in Ferguson and other cities in the U.S.
Recent events in Ferguson constitute the logical outcome of forces spelled out in 1968 by the National Advisory Panel on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission. The report warned of a “permanent division of our country into two societies: one, largely Negro and poor, located in the central cities; the other predominantly white and affluent, located in the suburbs and outlying areas.”
Cities have not become pockets of black poverty surrounded by prosperous white suburbs. But the reality of uneven development documented in the Kerner report persists in the nation’s metropolitan areas. Central features of that development are persisting racial segregation and surging economic segregation.
To understand recent events in Ferguson, and similar tension around the U.S., we need to go beyond an understanding (accurate or inaccurate) of individual or cultural characteristics (e.g., work ethic of minorities, culture of poverty among the urban poor, racial prejudice on the part of police) and examine the institutions that shape continuing uneven metropolitan development.
While nationwide most measures of segregation peaked in the 1970s, hypersegregation persists in older industrial cities where the African-American population is concentrated — what Brown University sociologist John Logan labeled the ghetto belt, including Washington, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis and many others.
Meanwhile, economic segregation, like economic inequality generally, is surging. As the Pew Research Center reported, between 1980 and 2010 the share of low-income census tracts (where most residents have incomes below two-thirds the national median) in the nation’s 30 largest metropolitan areas grew from 12 percent to 18 percent. The share of upper-income tracts (where the majority had incomes double the median) grew from 3 percent to 6 percent. Poor people and rich people are living increasingly apart.
These are not simply cold numbers. In poor neighborhoods schools are more likely to be failing, poverty and unemployment rates are higher, racial profiling and mass incarceration turn ordinary citizens into criminals, banks are few but payday lenders and other predatory financial services are prevalent, food deserts persist, and many other social problems are concentrated. These problems are spilling into suburbs like Ferguson where the Brookings Institution reported the poverty level doubled between 2000 and 2012, reaching 25 percent, and unemployment jumped from 5 percent to 13 percent. Context matters.
Read the full article on the St. Louis Dispatch