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From Ferguson, a troubling message

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MICHAEL B. THOMAS - GETTY
Missouri National Guard personnel arrive in Ferguson, Mo., on Monday.

Nine days after an unarmed young man was shot and killed by a police officer, there’s no slowing of the disturbing images coming out of Ferguson, Mo. Each night, on TV and social media, America is seeing the worst in itself.

There’s law enforcement choosing too often to muscle up instead of calming things down. There’s the small group of violent protesters whose nightly defiance dilutes the legitimate message of those who rally peacefully each day. And how about the state and national leaders who initially wanted nothing to do with the politically flammable unrest? Their inaction allowed the defensive and overaggressive local police to fill the void in all the wrong ways.

The result: Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was compelled Monday to call in the state National Guard to restore order, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is scrambling to finally corral the investigation into Brown’s death.

Meanwhile, national and international media have descended on Ferguson. What they’re hearing and seeing, however, is more than outrage over Brown’s shooting. It’s a parade of broader complaints from blacks – systemic racial bias, underfunded and underperforming schools and, most of all, a crushing cycle of economic inequality and immobility.

It’s a hopelessness that’s found in most every city, including and perhaps especially our own.

Earlier this month, Business Insider magazine ranked Charlotte the third fastest growing U.S. city for poverty, based on a new Brookings Institution report that analyzed the change in poverty levels between 2000 and the period of 2008-2012.

Earlier this year, after compiling 30 years worth of data, economists from Harvard and Cal-Berkeley ranked Charlotte last in economic mobility among the nation’s 50 large cities. That means Charlotte children in low-income households are likely to stay poor, based on five major factors: racial and income segregation, inequality, schools, social capital, and family structure.

The numbers are a reminder of the urgency of poverty here – and how Charlotte, unlike older cities, is in its infancy of forming public-private efforts to confront it. State lawmakers, of course, have made things more dire for the poor by eliminating the earned income tax credit for low-income families and rejecting a Medicaid expansion that would have provided health coverage to tens of thousands of North Carolinians.

A note: Of the 15 cities that fared worst in the Business Insider/Brookings poverty report, four are in North Carolina.

Does that mean Charlotte, or Raleigh or Greensboro, is the next Ferguson? No. But the tensions that exploded in Missouri are not far removed from what’s bubbling under the surface in so many cities. It’s an inequality that’s real, and a hopelessness that’s pervasive, and we shouldn’t be surprised when the worst in us flares up, for all of us to see.

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