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The Difficult Social History Uncovered By Ferguson

Elvert Barnes (perspective) / Flickr / Creative Commons

One of the talking points associated with the recent racial disturbance in Ferguson, Mo. is the enhanced militarization of contemporary municipal police forces.

This process began in the late 1960s, in the aftermath of the widespread racial disturbances of that era. Moreover, as Michelle Alexander discusses in her book The New Jim Crow, this arms build-up accelerated in the 1970s, as local law enforcement agencies across the country began a so-called “War On Drugs,” waged primarily in black and brown neighborhoods.

African American anger in Ferguson, while ostensibly linked with the shooting of Michael Brown, also reflects longstanding frustration with the chronic unemployment, poor schools and other problems that continue to beset many blacks. Similarly, while the activities of law-enforcement officials in African American enclaves clearly need to be more closely monitored, that, in and of itself, will not create a much-needed climate of economic and educational opportunity in inner-city black neighborhoods.

In his classic work A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens begins by declaring, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Some contemporary African Americans are, indeed, living the American Dream. Yet, as the events in Ferguson illustrate, far too many are experiencing an American Nightmare.

Robert E. Weems Jr. is the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University.