Ferguson extracts more revenue from African American renters seeking to heat their homes in the winter, light them after dark, and talk on their cell phones than it does from those who own the homes themselves. Taken together, these regressive taxes account for almost 60 percent of the city’s revenue. In contrast, property taxes—which are, at least in theory, progressive taxes—account for just under 12 percent. The vast wealth of the city, scarcely taxed at all, is locked up in property that African Americans were prevented from buying for most of its history.
The Missouri city—home to a multinational corporation—was so starved for cash that it extracted revenue from its poorest residents. A look beyond the death of Michael Brown, to the century of public policy that helped produce it.
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