“They say they want justice for Mike Brown,” says Mumtaz Lalani, an store owner in Ferguson, Missouri, “Is this justice? I don’t understand. What justice is this?
Lalani was referring to the looters who, on Saturday, robbed his store and attempted to burn it down.
The events in Ferguson are heartbreaking, but they will soon be all-but-forgotten. Within a few weeks the media—and the public’s limited attention—will move on to another story. Within a few months the criminal justice system will determine who is most responsible for the tragic death—whether it was Mike Brown or the officer who pulled the trigger. But the impact on Ferguson of the looting and riots will likely last for decades. And if other cities are any indication, Ferguson may never recover. As Fred Siegel explains,
Riots bring but one certainty—enormous economic and social costs. Businesses flee, taking jobs and tax revenues with them. Home values decline for all races, but particularly for blacks. Insurance costs rise and civic morale collapses. The black and white middle classes move out. Despite its busy port and enormous geographic assets, Newark, New Jersey has never fully recovered from its 1967 riot. This year, Newark elected as its mayor Ras Baraka, the son and political heir of Amiri Baraka—the intellectual inspiration for the 1967 unrest.
The story is similar in Detroit, which lost half its residents between 1967 and 2000. Civic authority was never restored after the late 1960s riots, which never really ended; they just continued in slow motion. “It got decided a long time ago in Detroit,” explained Adolph Mongo, advisor to the jailed former “hip-hop mayor,” Kwame Kilpatrick, that “the city belongs to the black man. The white man was a convenient target until there were no white men left in Detroit.” The upshot, explained Sam Riddle, an advisor to current congressman John Conyers, first elected in 1965, is that “the only difference between Detroit and the Third World in terms of corruption is that Detroit don’t have no goats in the streets.”
Neither the police nor the peaceful civilian protestors were able to stop the looting. And now there isn’t much anyone can do to stop the decades long decline that will follow in the wake of these crimes. The looters thought they were taking liquor, cigarettes, and wigs. But what they really stole was Ferguson’s future.