Bluffton professor: Ferguson was years in the making

Dec 8, 2014 by

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

BLUFFTON, Ohio — The aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo., hasn’t surprised Walter Paquin, a Bluffton University faculty member.



“This is an event 20-plus years in the making,” the assistant professor of social work said.

Paquin lived and conducted research as a graduate student at Washington University in neighboring St. Louis, and revisited his study of black suburban neighborhoods this summer.

He points to an increasingly segregated Ferguson — the result of “white flight” followed by an influx of African-American residents beginning in the 1990s — and related economic conditions as factors that also helped fuel unrest and sometimes violent protest in the St. Louis suburb after Aug. 9. That was the day Darren Wilson, a white police officer, fatally shot Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old black man, during an encounter on a Ferguson street.

The Nov. 24 announcement that a grand jury would not indict Wilson in connection with the shooting sparked more protests.

At the same time that segregation has meant less economic opportunity for black residents of Ferguson, African-Americans nationwide have not made gains in home ownership. Paquin said such economic factors, including high unemployment, increase frustration.

In 1940, 45.6 percent of white households owned their homes; in 2010, that figure was 44.8 percent for African-American households.

“African-American households are doing as poorly now as white households were 70 years ago,” he said. This is despite legislation, such as the Fair Housing Act of 1968, meant to end discrimination in housing.

Those economic conditions are “part of the outrage” about the Brown shooting and a couple of others in St. Louis.

“Those things are the tinder that has been building, and maybe we’ve even been pouring fuel on it,” Paquin said.

African-Americans began moving to the suburbs in St. Louis County looking for better neighborhoods and for educational and economic opportunities. In 2000, for the first time, more African-Americans lived in the county than in the city.

“That initial move to the county was a good move,” Paquin said.

Over the last 20 years, though, white residents have left many of those same suburban neighborhoods, driving down housing values and helping create segregated communities. That has happened in three of the four neighborhoods that predominantly comprise Ferguson, whose population is now about two-thirds black.

Meanwhile, what appears to be an “ingrained culture” of hiring white police officers in Ferguson hasn’t changed, he noted.

“There are lots of Ohio cities and counties that look similar to St. Louis,” Paquin said. “The idea that things have gotten better for African-Americans is actually not the case.”

Citing systemic problems without simple solutions, he suggests Americans should acknowledge that “we still have racism in the U.S.” and should take such steps as having awareness-raising conversations and putting more resources into education.

Now in his fourth year at Bluffton, Paquin earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Washington University’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work. His doctoral dissertation was titled, “When City Renters Buy Homes, Do They Buy in Better Neighborhoods?”

This summer, he received a Bluffton University Research Center grant for his follow-up project, “Do Black Neighborhoods Remain Stable? Revisiting Black Suburban Neighborhoods.”

Comments Policy

Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

About Me