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The Problem With Investigating Each Police Killing in Isolation
Aviation deaths once looked like an intractable problem. Then the federal government began probing every plane crash with an eye toward preventing future loss of life. Our skies got much safer as a result. A similar approach could reduce police killings. A federal agency should investigate every single killing and significant injury caused by American police officers, who have long killed people at higher rates than cops in many other wealthy democracies.Police killings and protests against them have loomed large in United States politics for at least the past seven years. Right now the nation is focused most closely on the trial of Derek Chauvin, who infamously knelt on George Floyd’s neck, even as new protests erupt in Minneapolis over the killing of Daunte Wright, who was shot to death by a police officer who says she intended to discharge her taser. On Thursday, the city of Chicago released footage of the fatal police shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo.[Read: The problem with police-shooting videos]The number of police killings of unarmed people appears to have dropped since The Washington Post began keeping track in 2015. Officers killed 95 that year, then 54 in 2019 and 55 in 2020, according to the newspaper’s database. The drop might represent progress; it might also be a fluke. Regardless, total fatal shootings by on-duty police show no such decline. From 2015 to 2019, the newspaper recorded just under 1,000 such incidents a year nationwide; last year’s total was 1,021.Officialdom’s primary response to police shootings and other uses of deadly force is currently backward-looking and legalistic. Local authorities review a killing to determine whether laws and department policies were followed. The most egregious police killings renew protests that succeed in generating attention, statements of concern from corporations, and gestures of solidarity from progressives, but not in reducing police killings. That cycle fuels anger, fear, polarization, and civic dysfunction, including occasional riots, with cultural effects that most Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, progressives, and libertarians dislike. Most everyone would benefit from more constructive responses all around.A faction within the Black Lives Matter movement is proposing potentially valuable policy changes at the local level. Well-researched initiatives such as Campaign Zero and 8 Can’t Wait would encourage community oversight of cops, more restrictive policies toward the use of force, and other specific reforms that appear likely to save lives. But among fellow activists, they are losing mindshare to another faction that advocates for defunding the police, a nonstarter among the broader public. “The only thing most people can seem to agree on—even at the height of the protests after Floyd’s death—is that they’re against the idea of defunding the police,” FiveThirtyEight reported recently in an assessment of survey data. “And this remains true today, even among Black Americans and Democrats.”The most constructive way that the federal government responds to avoidable loss of life is arguably in its treatment of aviation. Whenever a plane crash occurs, big or small, headline-grabbing or obscure, a team of experts is dispatched to reconstruct exactly what happened. The aim isn’t to advance a legal process or punish wrongdoers, but to figure out which changes, if any, could prevent it from happening again.“Aviation is safe in large part because it learns from its disasters,” my colleague James Fallows, himself a recreational pilot, has argued. The NTSB’s painstaking collection and evaluation of evidence after each accident can take months or even years, but the investigations yield insights that save lives. “From the dawn of commercial aviation through the 1990s,” Fallows writes, “1,000 to 2,000 people would typically die each year in airline crashes. Today, the worldwide total is usually about one-tenth that level.”What if every police killing triggered that sort of response?Focusing “on only the immediate causer” of a police killing “and the narrow time frame that defines his actions” is inadequate, the University of Virginia law professor Barbara E. Armacost argued in the Ohio State Law Journal, because “the killing of unarmed civilians by police results from multiple causes, both human and systemic, that set the stage for the tragic moment when the shot was fired.” A broader, NTSB-style approach would not ignore any factors.[Read: In one year, 57,375 years of life were lost to police violence]Paul Heaton, an economist who analyzes the criminal-justice system, argued in a 2017 essay that an NTSB for police killings would offer many advantages over the status quo. Perhaps the most significant is the ability a federal agency would have to learn from incidents all over America. “Often system-level factors that contribute to unwanted outcomes are only apparent after aggregating across multiple incidents, each of which appear unique and idiosyncratic when viewed in isolation,” he wrote, noting that “each locality has a limited set of incidents from which to draw useful lessons,” while “aggregation of information can likely produce better insights.”Another advantage, he argued, is that a federal agency’s investigative protocols could be consistent from case to case—unlike a local district attorney who, in deciding whether to seek the conviction of a police officer “is making procedural decisions in real time while investigating an incident that differs in important ways from more routine investigative business.”Finally, an NTSB-like approach would be separate from the criminal process. As Heaton wrote: The current investigative paradigm focuses almost exclusively on whether use of police force was legally justified, which is an adversarial approach that discourages open sharing of information. Moreover, it fails to recognize that many incidents that could be perceived as legally defensible—such as situations in which officers mistakenly believe themselves to be in imminent physical danger—are undesirable from a societal perspective, and in some cases can be prevented. An NTSB-style investigation wouldn’t preclude criminal charges for police, any more than it prevents the criminal prosecution of a pilot who drank on the job before a plane crash. But adding a neutral, fact-finding agency separate from the legal process would produce transparent recommendations even when an officer was acquitted or a DA declined to file charges.During her presidential campaign, Vice President Kamala Harris aired an idea much like the one Heaton outlined. She vowed to create “a National Police Systems Review Board, which would collect data and review police shootings and other cases of severe misconduct, and work to issue recommendations and implement safety standards based on evidence revealed in these reviews.”Some skeptics doubt that a proposal of this sort is politically viable. Others question whether it would overextend federal authority. Laurie Robinson, a criminologist at George Mason University and co-chair of the Obama administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, told the Marshall Project that “it would be unusual, as opposed to NTSB's power over a regulated interstate business, to provide this kind of power over a very local function.” To work, the proposed federal agency would require power to compel cooperation in its fact-finding. (Reflecting a focus on prevention only, parts of an NTSB investigation are inadmissible in judicial proceedings.) But even if states and localities retained all other control over policing policy, an NTSB-style agency could do good merely by gathering data; improving transparency; distilling insights and best practices; and keeping police brass, lawmakers, and the public informed. Plus, everyone who cares about decreasing the number of people cops kill every year would have something to focus on beyond a process of criminal accountability ill-suited to bringing about progress.Early on, perhaps a mere fraction of jurisdictions would follow federal investigators’ advice. But if those jurisdictions saw sustained declines in police killings, their example would be powerful.Current investigations of police killings are neither independent nor broad enough in scope to determine whether many shootings could have been avoided, nor are they oriented around using findings in individual cases to identify patterns that would save lives nationwide. We must either change our approach or continue to allow preventable police killings, costing lives and undermining faith in the criminal-justice system. An NTSB for police killings could solve those problems.Let’s try it.
theatlantic.com
The Trumpy Republican Who Won in Biden Country
In 2015, in the Dallas suburb of Irving, the fates of two very different Texans collided.One was 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, a precocious kid in a NASA T-shirt who had built a clock out of spare parts and brought it to school in a pencil case. His English teacher decided it might be a bomb, and the school called the police, who arrested Mohamed for bringing in a “hoax bomb.” Because Mohamed’s family was part of Irving’s large Muslim minority, many liberals saw this as a baseless case of Islamophobia.The other Texan was Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, a blond 44-year-old with Disney-princess bone structure. She defended Mohamed’s arrest on Facebook, then went on The Glenn Beck Program to repeat the “hoax bomb” lie and complain that the child hadn’t given police enough information. “We’ve heard more from the media than the child ever released to the police when we were asking him questions,” she said calmly.The controversy dragged obscure Irving into the national conversation. Yet another brown kid in a red state was being overpoliced. Yet another public official backed the police response. Within days, the news had reached the BlackBerry of President Barack Obama, who tweeted, “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House?”In the end, Mohamed was never charged, and he and his family moved to Qatar. As for Van Duyne: This past November, she was elected to the United States Congress.Her victory was a surprise—at least to some. Last year, President Donald Trump’s popularity among Texans was flagging, and Democrats in the state, who hoped to take control of the Texas House and win several congressional seats, thought diverse suburbs such as Irving would be reluctant to elect Trumplike Republicans. Van Duyne’s district—where the Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke beat Republican Senator Ted Cruz in 2018 while losing statewide—looked like one of their best opportunities. Democrats enrolled Van Duyne’s opponent, Candace Valenzuela, in the “Red to Blue” program, which aims to help Democratic candidates win Republican districts.But Republicans, including Van Duyne, won all the Texas seats Democrats had targeted, and the GOP maintained control of the state legislature. Van Duyne outperformed Trump, winning her district even as the then-president lost it to Joe Biden—one of the nine House Republicans to manage that feat. Democrats weren’t just beaten; they were beaten by the exact kind of candidate they thought voters were done with. The contest was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “most bitter loss,” as one Texas Republican strategist told Fox News.The outcome complicates the narrative about Texas that liberals like to tell: that the state is slowly but surely “turning blue”; that one day soon Texans will wake up, come to their senses, and become Democrats. Van Duyne’s victory suggests that her 2015 strategy of stoking fears of foreigners didn’t make her unelectable in a diverse, growing suburb—and may have even aided her. Trump may be gone, but Trumpism is very much alive.Van Duyne is in some ways a quintessential Texan, in that she’s not originally from there. She was born in upstate New York. Like droves of other northerners in recent decades, her family moved to the Dallas area when she was a teenager, for the warmer weather. (It’s a popular destination; my family also moved to a Dallas suburb when I was in middle school.)She paid her own way through Cornell University, in New York, and returned to Texas to work in marketing and communications. Shiek Shah, a former co-worker and longtime friend, calls Van Duyne intelligent and soft-spoken, a devoted mom and a diligent worker. She’s a good listener, he told me, who is willing to change her mind. Eventually, Van Duyne ran a marketing firm with her husband. (They’re now divorced.)Van Duyne’s spokesperson did not respond to interview or comment requests. Neither did Van Duyne’s ex-husband. But he did send me a newsletter published by her subdivision, Hackberry Creek, in which she tells a flattering story about how she got into politics. Van Duyne, who has a visually impaired daughter, wrote that she rallied the neighborhood to build a park so that her daughter and other kids would have a place to play. “Little did I know,” she wrote, “starting that effort would lead to people asking me to run for office.”[ Read: Newtown’s congresswoman takes on Marjorie Taylor Greene ]The less flattering origin story is this: Around 2002, Van Duyne and other homeowners in her subdivision organized to block a big new commercial development from coming to the area. Hackberry Creek is a “master-planned gated community” full of 3,000-square-foot houses with Jacuzzi tubs and plantation shutters, all set among “hillside vistas and winding creeks.” The residents were worried about trash and food odors drifting over from the proposed restaurants and stores, according to Herbert Gears, who was a city-council member at the time and favored the plan. Riled up by the dispute over the development with Gears, Van Duyne ran for city council in 2004 and won his seat. Beating an incumbent is rarely easy, but Van Duyne speaks with an unflappable Texas niceness, and had befriended everyone, including some of the most important Republicans in town. “She’s one of those types that people just like,” says Rick Barnes, the chair of the Republican Party of Tarrant County, which is partly represented by Van Duyne.Irving’s city council is unusually contentious. At one point, a former city-council member called me to complain about Van Duyne, then asked for their name to be taken out of this article because they were worried the congresswoman would seek revenge. Barnes described Van Duyne as “strong-willed,” and throughout her career, she has cast herself as a tough mom who never backs down. In 2005, a year after losing his council seat to Van Duyne, Gears became mayor, and the two proceeded to fight bitterly and constantly. Van Duyne opposed building apartments in Irving because, as she wrote in a 2008 Dallas Morning News op-ed, “in addition to the greater susceptibility to crime and increased traffic created by the high density of people in an apartment complex, many Irving residents are averse to apartments because of their long-term effects on the community … Will the apartments beautify the area or lower its aesthetic value?”In part, these were just the statements of a proud Irvingite convinced that there is nowhere better to be. “You get the people inside of Irving who don’t like it and complain about it,” she said in a 2015 speech. “But you go to New York, and they’re like, Oh you’re from Irving. Oh, that’s a great city. You’ve got DFW Airport, ExxonMobil …” But Van Duyne took her opposition to apartments a step further: She asked the city to hire a consultant to attack members of the Dallas city council who supported building apartments near Irving, according to Gears, who told the story to The Dallas Morning News years ago and repeated it to me recently.In 2011, Van Duyne defeated Gears to become the first female mayor of the 200,000-person city. As mayor, she developed a knack for getting people to believe in her, according to fellow council member John Danish, but also for shutting down projects she didn’t agree with. She refused to sign city ordinances if she’d voted against them, according to a 2015 profile by Avi Selk, a Washington Post journalist who was then at The Dallas Morning News. Selk, who covered Irving for the Morning News, sums up this period of Van Duyne’s term as “ineffectual.” “She didn’t accomplish any of the stuff she wanted to do,” he told me.A few years into her tenure, Van Duyne started to look beyond typical mayoral matters, such as cutting taxes by half a penny, and to the culture wars. Some Texas politicians were already flirting with Islamophobia: Republican Representative Louie Gohmert claimed in 2013 that “radical Islamists” were being “trained to act like Hispanic[s]” so they could sneak across the border. Trump had already spent years implying that President Obama was Muslim, and won widespread press coverage for it.“At that time, trashing on Muslims was very politically popular,” Gears told me.One local Facebook group, in particular, tended to attract posters who were both pro–Van Duyne and anti-Islamic, Selk told me. “It was just wall-to-wall racism,” he said. Several members of the Facebook group “absolutely feared and hated Muslims.” Though Van Duyne did not participate in the racist conversations, she did pop up occasionally to check in with constituents. And the tenor of the discussion meant Islamophobia became a “good issue” for her, Selk said.In 2015, Van Duyne seized on a claim, promoted by the conservative site Breitbart News, suggesting that a Muslim court in Irving was operating under Sharia law. She swiftly posted a condemnation of the idea on Facebook. “Recently, there have been rumors suggesting that the City of Irving has somehow condoned, approved or enacted the implementation of a Sharia Law Court in our City,” she wrote. “Let me be clear, neither the City of Irving, our elected officials or city staff have anything to do with the decision of the mosque that has been identified as starting a Sharia Court.”The “Sharia Law Court” was in fact a mediation panel for resolving disputes among Muslims in Dallas. These types of mediators exist for Christians and Jews too, and the area’s Islamic community said its panel complied with American laws. The fact-checking site Politifact rated “false” the claim that Muslims “attempted to establish the first Islamic Sharia court inside the United States in the town of Irving, Texas.”Nevertheless, Van Duyne went on Glenn Beck’s show to denounce the panel. “Equal treatment under the law doesn’t seem to exist,” Van Duyne told Beck. “I think you need to put your foot down and say, ‘This is America; we have laws here already.’ If you want to consult, if you want to arbitrate, that is well within our law … I’ve got no problem with it. But setting up a separate court—setting up separate law—is not anything.”Beck cut her off. “This is an actual court?”“Correct,” Van Duyne responded, inaccurately.Afterward, Van Duyne pushed the Irving city council to pass a resolution endorsing a Texas House bill that would bar “foreign” laws from superseding American laws. The measure was widely known as an “anti-Sharia” bill, and it thrilled the state’s far-right Republicans. It might strain credulity that a big-city mayor with an Ivy League education would actually believe that Sharia law was about to take over the state of Texas. To some, Van Duyne’s Sharia scaremongering seemed more savvy than sincere. “I think it’s a policy position that she already held, but then she may have pushed it further, such as through a vote in the city council, due to political aspirations,” says Mark Jones, a political-science professor at Rice University.Van Duyne framed her proposal as an issue of women’s rights. “When you have women whose testimony is equal to half that of a man’s, how can you defend that if that is happening in our country?” she asked at a 2017 forum. It’s hard to argue with that—which was, perhaps, exactly the point. The Dallas Observer has called Van Duyne “a Trumpist Republican before Trumpist Republicans existed.” And she did display a preternatural ability to play one of Trump’s favorite tunes: “Our nation cannot be so overly sensitive in defending other cultures that we stop protecting our own,” Van Duyne said at the forum.The “clock boy” incident, as it has come to be known, happened just a few months later. Soon, armed anti-Muslim protesters descended on the Islamic Center of Irving, citing, in part, the “Sharia court” flap as their motivation. They published the names and addresses of Irving Muslims, terrifying the community. Mohamed’s family sued Van Duyne for defamation, though the lawsuit against her would ultimately be dismissed. Van Duyne, as usual, stayed the course. When asked about Obama’s tweet in support of Mohamed, she told Beck, “It seems to be an underlying habit that he is going to second-guess police officers without any kind of information.”As mayor, Van Duyne had been visiting the Islamic Center, a massive white mosque with an emerald dome, once or twice a year. She would read for kids at the school there and attend Ramadan interfaith dinners, according to Raed Sbeit, a former board member of the mosque. Van Duyne’s friend Shah, who is of Indian descent, says that Van Duyne never expressed any xenophobic views toward him or around him. The incident with Mohamed, to him, was an example of a city leader displaying caution in an era of school shootings. Whatever the explanation, in 2015, Van Duyne stopped visiting the mosque. “Beth is not Beth when she first came to office,” Sbeit told me.[Read: The left’s answer to Trump is 6 foot 8 and wears shorts in February]That year, reporters went from writing stories about how Van Duyne was highlighting the “city’s ‘wins’” to writing stories about how she was “a hero for conservatives.” To get even more attention, she took another page out of the Trump playbook: Attack the media. When Selk was reporting his profile about Van Duyne for The Dallas Morning News, she deemed his questions about her home and work life inappropriate and refused to answer them. “She developed this Tea Party talking tour for months afterward, where she had a whole slide about me and my questions and lots of jokes about how I was probably romantically interested in her,” Selk told me. After the “Sharia court” incident, the Morning News columnist Steve Blow also wrote that Van Duyne had lied about him while on the Tea Party speaking circuit. “She was slamming the paper at every opportunity,” Selk said. “That was good politics too.”Van Duyne went after the people her constituency already didn’t like—the media, Muslims—and it paid off with growing exposure, more media attention, and ultimately bigger jobs. In 2017, Trump appointed her as a regional administrator within the Department of Housing and Urban Development, responsible for overseeing issues such as disaster recovery and economic development across Texas and four other states.Van Duyne wasn’t one of those reluctant career bureaucrats who held their nose as they did Trump’s bidding. She had been one of the few mayors of a large city to back his presidential campaign. After leaving HUD, she ran for Congress as a supporter of Trump’s policies, won his endorsement—and, last November, won the seat.A newly elected member of Congress who prevailed in a close race in a swing district like Van Duyne’s might be expected to try to acquire a moderate reputation in D.C. Unlike many freshman members of Congress, though, Van Duyne knows she won’t be facing the same voters next year. Because Democrats failed to win control of the Texas House, Republicans will have unilateral control over drawing district lines in the state, and are nearly certain to make Van Duyne’s district even more Republican ahead of the 2022 election. Her Trumpy, conservative reputation means she probably won’t be vulnerable in the next GOP primary, and with a more Republican-leaning district, she’ll be even less likely to be defeated by a Democrat, says Jones, the political scientist.She has acted accordingly, voting against certifying Pennsylvania’s election results, then criticizing President Biden for undoing Trump’s legacy. She’s even sparred with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter about who used to be the tougher waitress.Van Duyne’s gender makes her especially valuable to the Texas congressional delegation. Texas Republicans have always had trouble recruiting female candidates, and she’s only the third Republican woman from Texas to be elected to the House—and one of only two serving now. “In Texas, it’s difficult for anybody to defeat a sitting U.S. House member,” Jones says. “And Van Duyne, as only one of two women Republicans, is likely to be especially protected, in the sense that the GOP realizes it has a serious image problem.”I asked Barnes, the GOP chair, about the most common criticism of Van Duyne: that the way she made a name for herself, pretending to crack down on Sharia law, was not what a growing, diverse—and partly Muslim—area really wanted from its leader. “It may be that we are finding that it was more in line with what the citizens of the area wanted and desired out of their mayor … than may have become public at the time,” he said. Indeed, among Republicans in Texas, Trumpism’s appeal endures. Trump remains the most popular Republican politician in Texas among GOP voters—more popular than Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Senator Ted Cruz, or Senator John Cornyn. Van Duyne is “just reflecting what the Republican base thinks about Donald Trump, and that is that they’re very supportive of him,” Jones says.Ahead of last year’s election, Democrats had imagined that Trumpist candidates like Van Duyne would seem out of step with a changing Texas. But an ambitious single mother who has become a city-council member, a mayor, a regional housing administrator, and finally a U.S. representative is clearly not out of step. She is walking in precisely the right direction.
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theatlantic.com
Left-Behind Suburbs Are a Civil-Rights Battleground
The death of Daunte Wright, a Black motorist killed by police in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, is a window into the future of civil-rights conflict in America. That Black Lives Matter was launched after a police shooting in a similar community outside St. Louis—Ferguson, Missouri—is not a coincidence. Both Brooklyn Center and Ferguson are small, older suburbs. Both have become racially and economically segregated, and much poorer, over time. Both are perfectly tailored to produce inequality, discrimination, and, ultimately, conflict between their citizens and the institutions shaping those citizens’ lives—institutions that include local government and police.Metropolitan regions across the country are producing hundreds of suburbs where similar problems prevail. The Fergusonization of parts of suburbia threatens the well-being of those communities’ residents and damages the fabric of American society.[Read: The white suburbs that fought busing aren’t so white anymore]In some respects, segregation is even more harmful in the suburbs than in major cities, which typically have a larger industrial and commercial tax base that allows them to weather crises and sustain public services. On average, predominantly nonwhite suburbs have the lowest per capita tax base of any community type in a major metropolitan area—about 25 percent less than major cities, and about 40 percent less than predominantly white suburbs. In many segregated suburbs, the quality of public services erodes over time. Some of these communities, including Ferguson, resort to raising revenue through fees and traffic tickets, inevitably leading to many more encounters between residents and police.U.S. Census Bureau data indicate that Brooklyn Center is the most rapidly segregating community in Minnesota. In 1990, the city was 90 percent white; its poverty rate was low, at 5 percent. Three decades later, the city is 38 percent white and its poverty rate has tripled, to 15 percent. It is now the poorest major suburb in the Twin Cities region, and it has a higher percentage of residents of color than any other major municipality in the area. Ferguson underwent nearly identical changes in the years before a police officer shot Michael Brown to death in 2014; the city transitioned from 85 percent white in 1980 to 29 percent white in 2010. Over the same period, its poverty rate almost quadrupled.Social-science researchers describe this process as resegregation: Communities that start out as almost exclusively white go through a brief and unstable period of racial integration, and before long, an overwhelming majority of residents are people of color. These demographic shifts are the product of housing discrimination against people of color—especially Black and Latino people—and of de facto school segregation and white flight. They are not at all unusual in American metropolitan regions, and isolate millions of families of color in economically troubled cities.Like many resegregating suburbs, Brooklyn Center was once a hub of opportunity, where middle- and working-class residents lived side by side. These places have proved attractive to economically successful families of color seeking better schools and an escape from the discrimination and disinvestment that are endemic in segregated central-city neighborhoods. Black Americans especially are migrating to the suburbs in record numbers. Just since 2000, the urban Black population in major metropolitan areas has fallen by about 5 percent, while the suburban Black population has grown by more than 40 percent, according to my calculations.In wealthy new suburbs and exurbs, where McMansions line endless cul-de-sacs, housing that working-class families of color can afford is scarce. Inner-ring suburbs typically have an older housing stock, including small postwar houses, more rental units, and cheap high-density housing. Families migrating from the central cities of a metro area tend to cluster in these more affordable communities; so do immigrants. (Brooklyn Center has the highest share of foreign-born residents in the Twin Cities area.) Other, more nefarious forces also funnel nonwhite families toward the inner suburbs—such as the practice of discriminatory racial “steering,” wherein real-estate agents are more likely to show families of color homes in already-diverse neighborhoods. As a result, the demographics of many older suburbs are shifting fast.Changes typically come even faster to these places’ schools, because in these communities, families of color are more likely to have children than white households are. The Brooklyn Center school district has transitioned from being 77 percent white in 1990 to less than 20 percent white today. The white share of Ferguson school enrollment fell from 58 to 17 percent in the two decades preceding the killing of Michael Brown. In 2012, 78 percent of Ferguson’s student body came from low-income families; similarly, 73 percent of Brooklyn Center students do today. School changes have a major impact on city demographics, because many affluent residents with children will leave if they feel that the percentage of minority students and poor students is too high.[Read: White flight never ended]Suburbs usually remain vibrant and thriving as they become more racially integrated. But eventually a tipping point is reached, and the corrosive effects of racial isolation and segregation begin to be felt. When this happens, middle-class residents—mostly white, but not entirely—begin to leave in large numbers. Since 2000, Brooklyn Center has lost 42 percent of its white population; Ferguson has lost 49 percent. Economic opportunity has vanished too. Adjusted for inflation, the median income in Brooklyn Center has fallen by about $9,000 since 2000, and the city has lost a sixth of its middle- and upper-income residents. In Ferguson, median incomes have dropped by nearly $15,000 during the same period.The suburbs that these dynamics leave behind replicate many of the same conditions that existed in segregated center-city neighborhoods in the 20th century. As in those enclaves, certain aspects of the relationship between residents and the powerful institutions with which they interact—police, elected officials, school systems, landlords, employers—appear colonial in nature. At the time of Brown’s killing, Ferguson’s mayor and almost all of its city council were white. Many police forces in resegregated suburbs are staffed with a large number of nonresidents, who also may be disproportionately white. Even private economic arrangements in segregated places can be extractive in nature. Before the 2008 financial crisis, Brooklyn Center was the largest suburban hub of subprime lending in the Twin Cities area. Tragically, the residents of resegregated suburbs face the same obstacles that many had attempted to escape by leaving major cities: struggling schools, unemployment, poverty, and police violence.The Fergusonization of suburbs is a nationwide problem, uniting many far-flung communities whose residents and leaders may not even realize they have anything in common. Census data show that in 2010, more than 20 percent of the suburban population in major American metros lived in a predominantly nonwhite suburb reminiscent of Brooklyn Center or Ferguson, and that share has grown every year since. Because the forces causing resegregation are larger than any one municipality, individual suburbs are unable to solve this problem by acting alone. But solutions do exist.Resegregation can be slowed by ensuring that affordable housing is available in all communities, not clustered in older suburbs. If schools are stably integrated and given the support they need to thrive, families are less likely to leave their current neighborhood in search of better education. Economic aid can be directed to already-resegregated communities, ameliorating the decline of services and schools. [Read: Revenge of the suburbs]Such measures are best implemented at a regional scale, usually by state or federal government. Ideally, metropolitan governing structures would be created to administer regional policies. This isn’t sufficient in and of itself; the Minneapolis–St. Paul region has a more robust regional government than most metro areas, and it has badly shirked its role in preventing resegregation. Yet individual suburban municipalities elsewhere in the country are even more alone, forced to compete with neighboring cities when what they really need is help protecting their residents’ civil rights and their own future.These left-behind communities—the country’s Fergusons and Brooklyn Centers—do not vanish or dissolve. People still live in them. Their suffering is real, and the injustices their residents face become a flash point for conflict, violence, and protest that spans the nation.
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theatlantic.com