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What we know about Ferguson one year later

Gina Gowey, of Ferguson, Mo., protests Sunday in Ferguson, on the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown being shot and killed by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson.
Gina Gowey, of Ferguson, Mo., protests Sunday in Ferguson, on the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown being shot and killed by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson. Associated Press

A year after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., peaceful protests once again ended in violence, as police reportedly shot a man who fired at them.

But a year after the tragic events, new information about the context of the shooting has emerged. The reports depict schools that are largely segregated, housing policies that facilitate the segregation of neighborhoods by race, police departments that disproportionately stop black residents and struggle with how to talk to black residents.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting the Washington Post reported that Ferguson and several similar jurisdictions outside of St. Louis earned a greater proportion of revenue from their police departments than was legally allowed by the state of Missouri in order to balance their budgets.

The article cited a police officer flipping a switch that suddenly turned a traffic light red and issuing a ticket, as one of many examples of policing for revenue. Many of its low-income and black residents were then jailed for not being able to pay their fines and new fines were added to old ones.

In March the Justice Department released a report confirming much of what the Post had reported and added new details, such as black men being confronted for sitting in their cars after playing basketball, black residents being arrested for “resisting arrest” and black residents being assaulted by police dogs.

Last week This American Life reported that the school system where Michael Brown attended high school bused its students to a nearby district, which was wealthier, higher performing and had more white students. That’s because the district Brown attended had been ranked last in overall academic performance and state law required that the children there be given a better option. Parents in the wealthier district complained and a year later the state took over the Normandy school district, in part so that its students wouldn’t have to be bused to the higher-performing school districts.

Last week the New Yorker published the first in-depth profile of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown; he was not indicted. Wilson reportedly struggled to talk to and earn the respect of black residents and sought help from officers who had more experience in black communities. The police force was 94 percent white when Brown was shot, even thought whites made up 67 percent of the population.

On Sunday the New York Times detailed how difficult it was for black residents near where Michael Brown lived to find housing in white or mixed neighborhoods, due to a mix of federal housing policies, realtor intransigence and residents who didn’t want integration in their neighborhoods.

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