The tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, two unarmed black teenagers, in Sanford, Florida, and Ferguson, Missouri, helped launch protests across the United States over police violence in African American communities. These two suburban communities were, however, more than just the backdrops to shootings and subsequent uprisings; they were central to the events that took place within them. This chapter investigates how the unrest in Sanford and Ferguson was rooted in a long history of structural violence aimed at African Americans and realized across the metropolitan landscape. We argue that these two communities – one a small inner-ring suburb in the Rustbelt, the other a sprawling Sunbelt city – evidence the ways that African Americans have become increasingly segregated in diverse but struggling suburbs within fragmented metropolitan areas. The uprisings highlighted the racialized policies and practices that have followed African Americans from the city to the suburbs, and the suburbs’ critical position in the modern struggle for racial justice and inclusion in the United States.
Authors Note: I was honored to write this piece with Willow Lung-Amam, one of my favorite scholar of race + suburbia. You can find a downloadable version here.