The boarded buildings of Ferguson

My latest for Quartz addresses the economic and racial issues behind the boarding up of storefronts along Ferguson’s West Florissant Ave:

Since August, the media have described Ferguson in apocalyptic terms. The region has been compared to Gaza and Iraq, and today phrases like“riot-scarred” and “riots that engulfed the city” punctuate mainstream press. The reality is that the violence and looting that took place in Ferguson was limited to a small strip in the commercial district of West Florissant Avenue, with one business, QuikTrip, burned to the ground. The few stores that were looted reopened shortly afterward.

It is debatable whether the August violence, limited in damage and scope, could be classified as a riot. The police response, which included tear gassing residents on their property, was more pervasively destructive than the actions of protesters on the ground. For over 90 days, protests continued with minimal property damage. Ferguson remains a suburb of unassuming homes and faltering businesses, much as it was before. Its scars run deep, but they are largely emotional, not physical.

Some have interpreted the boarding of Ferguson as racist, a sign of business owners’ lack of faith in residents and protesters. But the boarding of Ferguson needs to be examined in the context of St. Louis’s racial politics and economic decline.

It is easy to find other parts of St. Louis that resemble the aftermath of riots. Shattered windows, roofless dwellings, boarded buildings, and stately homes whose bricks were stolen by the poor are all part of St. Louis’s landscape. Blighted suburbs like Wellston, Pagedale, Berkeley, and Kinloch bear the burden of decades of white flight, municipal corruption, and resource denial. Drive down the once thriving Page Boulevard, now a thoroughfare between crumbling majority black suburbs, and you will find sites like a forsaken VCR repair shop with shattered windows, a sign affixed to the front advertising a Democratic electoral candidate. The election was in 2010.

This is not the legacy of riots. This is the legacy of apathy and abandonment, which has harmed St. Louis more than looting ever has.

Read the whole thing, The real reason Ferguson is boarding up its storefronts, at Quartz

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