Editor's note: This editorial originally appeared in The St. Louis American. It is reprinted here with permission.
With deep humility, we admit we did not see this coming, and not where it came—in a ring suburb, rather than in the city—though we can see where it came from.
North St. Louis County and many of its municipalities have suffered decades of economic disinvestment, loss of manufacturing jobs and disruption by highway construction and airport expansion. Those who chose to stay in these ring suburbs, or who had no other options, had to live—or die—with the consequences.
White flight, particularly to St. Charles County, first hit the school districts, then the tax base. Remaining homeowners are heavily taxed in areas with often struggling schools, little industry and dwindling businesses and services. The mortgage bubble really burst in these areas, with rampant home foreclosures. Large retail areas in North County have been abandoned. Small businesses face difficulty establishing a presence due to high prices for retail space and insurance costs. Those who stay charge more, and those who buy from them pay more.
When businesses and retail move, those who remain have to spend their money with establishments elsewhere in the region. That builds up the tax base in other areas, not their own. For those who lack reliable transportation (let alone job skills and education), there are few opportunities to eke out a livelihood locally. There is little escape.
Disillusionment, resentment and tension set in where economic opportunities, recreation and thriving businesses once flourished. The “look at us, we are on our way back” slogans boasted by chambers of commerce say nothing about those who have been treated as invisible or dispensable.
As for our youth, many of them may not be properly educated, but they are not stupid, and it is not difficult for them to hear what they are being told in the cold language of unaccredited districts and transfer students. Michael Brown graduated in the much-discussed Normandy School District, an unaccredited school district that expired not long before he was killed. He and his peers—specifically, those strivers willing to transfer to a better school district—were told they were not wanted by many other districts in the region, once those districts were no longer required to accept them.
It may take a village to raise a child, but many administrators and parents in better-resourced parts of our region had no problem saying quite publicly that Michael Brown and his brothers and sisters did not belong in their village.