J.B. Forbes / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / MCT / Landov

In 20 years Ferguson changed, but its institutions didn't

Two-thirds of the town is now African-American, but its public offices are mainly staffed by Caucasians. Is this common?

After ten days of unrest in Ferguson, Missouri people are beginning to focus on the future. Specifically, how to make Ferguson’s institutions look more like … Ferguson.

The city’s population is about two-thirds African American, yet Ferguson’s mayor, all but one member of its city council, all but one member of its school board and 50 of its 53 police officers are white.

How did it get here? There are lots of reasons, but one key thing is clear: over the course of a generation, Ferguson changed, but its institutions didn’t.

In 1980, the city was 85 percent white. Its government stayed that way, even as the city became mostly African-American. Today, less than 30 percent of the town's population is white.

Ferguson has become the most prominent example of a generational demographic shift – an issue that can be seen in communities around the country. 

From places like Inglewood, California, to Fulton County, Georgia, frictions develop when communities change but their power structures don’t.

At a memorial service for Michael Brown over the weekend, Reverend Alan Sharpton said part of the problem is that people need to get more involved politically and make their voices heard.

"You all have got to start voting and showing up," said Sharpton. "Twelve percent [voter] turnout is an insult to your children."

But even that number is optimistic. In Ferguson’s last local election, 12 percent was the overall turnout figure. Among African-Americans, it was just six percent.

And if there is one thing everyone seems to agree on, it’s that the issues Ferguson has brought into focus will not be solved quickly, or easily.

"This problem existed long before any of us were here and it will exist long after we are gone," Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said on Sunday.

"The question is what are we going to do to change it while we are here and have a chance to change it."

What are the causes of this racial disparity?

How have other cities dealt with this situation?

How have the region’s recent migration trends worked against black engagement?

We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.

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