Polarization: The Great Divide and Lessons of Ferguson

This paper is a reflection of insights and observations after serving as a member of the Ferguson Commission, Vice Chairman of the St. Louis County Police Board, former Chairman of the St. Louis County-Municipal Police Academy, former Mayor of the City of Hazelwood, Missouri, and as a retired public administration faculty member. The events in Ferguson in 2014 were interpreted within the context of a polarized political, economic, and educational social system. As the events in Ferguson were covered by national and international media a picture of a polarized city and social system emerged. This paper does not seek to document and discuss the root causes of segregated housing and educational institutions in Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area. That task has been documented by other individuals.

This paper will examine polarization from a somewhat different perspective than that usually taken when the topic is discussed. It will present some of the issues that have served to strengthen polarization about the events in Ferguson and that have impacted the responses by the larger St. Louis region. The challenges arising from polarization for the public sector are not limited to Ferguson and St. Louis, but are relevant for municipalities across the nation.

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