Straight shot, it’s eight and half miles from Ferguson to Creve Coeur, another St. Louis suburb. Without traffic, you could make the drive in less than twenty minutes, bus in 90, or even walk in four hours (although leaving Ferguson on foot, you’d be well-advised to avoid the center of the street).
Beside proximity to The Gateway to the West, Ferguson and Creve Coeur are roughly alike in populations – the former having a few more and the latter some less than 20,000 inhabitants.
And that’s about where the similarities end. Compared to its leafy neighbor, Ferguson is substantially poorer ($36K versus $85K median household income, with 22% versus 6% living in poverty), more likely to have households with only one parent (38% to 8%), and less well educated (23% versus 70% of those over 25 having bachelor’s degrees). In 2012, Ferguson recorded a total of 42 murders, rapes and assaults – Creve Coeur 13. Ferguson’s 1,079 combined robberies, burglaries and thefts was almost exactly four times Creve Coeur’s.
Worse, even aside from the events of the past week, Ferguson’s future looks rather less bright. While Creve Coeur’s population has grown 8% since 2000, Ferguson’s has declined 6%. In the ten years to 2012, Creve Coeur saw 335 permit applications filed for new housing construction. Ferguson recorded 30.
Oh, and Ferguson is 65% black, compared to Creve Coeur’s lily 70% white.
And that last, depending on your point of view, says almost all or almost nothing of the recent events in Ferguson.
It appears Michael Brown was shot and killed for no sufficient reason by Officer Darren Wilson. White cop shoots black kid. Roll presses, cue the news anchors, interview some locals and the itinerant troupe of the professionally outraged good and great. And sadly, tragically, when in some month’s time Michael Brown’s name is only the latest addition to a list stretching beyond memory, the media circus will have departed and we will be left with . . . nothing.
Because at the deep root of the rage in Ferguson is the same anguish of long-throttled hopes that have erupted in countless countries for centuries among people of all colors and creeds. Ferguson’s sons and daughters have much – too much – in common with protesters in Kiev, Cairo, Caracas, Athens, Bangkok, Ankara and South Africa to pick just a handful from the most recent past. Not to ignore, for that matter, the peasants who even more famously stormed the Bastille two and a quarter centuries ago. All shared the desire for a fair shot at life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, coupled with the frustration of that goal being denied by a system rigged and run by and for the benefit of those farther up the ladder. Research in 2013 showed 62% of Americans think today’s children will be worse off than their parents, compared to only 33% who believed the opposite, and not without reason. As much as our country’s continuing, intolerable prejudices demand attention, at least as much do the causes of loss of faith in fairness and hope for a better tomorrow.
So whether we watch the events unfolding in Ferguson from the comfort of our distant living rooms, the more proximate Creve Coeur, or through the fog of tear gas on West Florissant, we ignore the reasons for the rage and despair at our great peril.