I live in the St. Louis area, and like almost everyone in the region, I am disturbed by the unfortunate series of recent events in Ferguson, an “inner ring” suburb in St. Louis County. I found this post, “Is segregation the problem in Ferguson?” to be a good analysis of the degree of racial integration in Ferguson and in St. Louis County (which is separate from the city of St. Louis, the latter being essentially its own “county”). The author, Jonathan Rodden of The Hoover Institution, is a graduate of nearby McCluer North High School, part of the Ferguson-Florrissant School District. The post contains some nice maps and charts that shed light on the question of local diversity.
Rodden emphasizes the high degree of integration in Ferguson relative to St. Louis County, countering the notion that a lack of diversity has caused problems in Ferguson:
“While most of St. Louis County’s residents live in municipalities that are either homogeneous or internally segregated or both, Ferguson and its North County neighbors stand out for their relative heterogeneity and internal desegregation. Moreover, the income gap between blacks and whites is smaller in these municipalities than elsewhere.”
Rodden notes that much of the unrest has been focused on minimal African American representation on the city’s police force and in city government:
“The immediate problem in Ferguson is neither residential segregation nor its demise. Rather, as many have pointed out, it is that the racial integration of the community has not been reflected in the municipal government and police force, whose racial composition still reflects the status quo of the 1980s.”
He places some blame on certain interest groups who manipulate the election cycle:
“Recent research by political scientists has shown that small but well-organized interest groups, such as unionized teachers and municipal workers, benefit handsomely from low-turnout off-cycle elections. Historically, off-cycle elections have been a favored strategy of established ethnic groups in American cities who wished to keep immigrants and minorities out of power.”
However, ultimately voter turnout is up to voters, so electing satisfactory representation should not be an insurmountable challenge within the existing system. Another quibble I have is that Rodden almost implies that the process of hiring a more diverse police force can be accomplished fairly easily and quickly. Such a change would probably have to occur through attrition of the existing force, which would take time.