Why Is Ferguson’s Government So White?

by Dish Staff


Brian Schaffner, Wouter Van Erve and Ray LaRaja illustrate “why Ferguson’s elected officials look so little like its population”:

The first chart shows turnout rates among African Americans and whites in Ferguson for both the 2012 general election in November and the 2013 municipal election in April. In 2012, African Americans and whites turned out in nearly identical numbers (54 percent and 55 percent, respectively). In the April 2013 municipal election, turnout was dramatically lower among both groups, but whites were three times more likely to vote than African Americans. …

In 2012, when turnout was high and African Americans voted at a similar rate to whites, 71 percent of Ferguson voters were black. However, in 2013, whites became a majority of the Ferguson electorate, by a margin of 52 percent-47 percent. This is a dramatic difference, and it would almost certainly help to account for the extent to which Ferguson’s elected officials are of a much different racial makeup than its population.

But Masket calculates that “Ferguson is a serious outlier” in this regard:

As of 2001, it was a majority African American city with zero African Americans on the city council. The only city with a greater representational disparity was Riverdale, Georgia, but African American representation in that city has increased dramatically since then. Ferguson, meanwhile, has gained one African American city council member since then (17 percent of the council), but its African American population has increased to 67 percent, meaning it’s still a rather extreme outlier in terms of representation. …

This isn’t to dismiss Ferguson as a meaningless outlier. As Clarissa Hayward notes: “Ferguson is anything but anomalous. It’s an all-too-familiar manifestation of how racial injustice lives on, even after significant shifts in white racial attitudes.” There are problems with representation in a number of places across the country, and Ferguson is, sadly, hardly the only city to see an unarmed young black man gunned down by a white police officer.