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American Ethnologist


I had been at the library for hours, going over the last edits on my first book (Boyles 2015), when I received a distressing phone call: a police officer had killed a Black male teenager in the city of Ferguson. The caller said protesters were assembling at the scene and suggested that I go there immediately. Well, I responded accordingly. I went, ultimately embarking on an unanticipated, extraordinary three-year empirical journey. As a sociologist and critical criminologist, I had been researching and writing about conflict between Black citizens and police in the suburbs of the St. Louis region for five years. The book I was finalizing was an ethnographic study of Black resident–police relationships in Meacham Park, a historically Black neighborhood in the city of Kirkwood—one of St. Louis's most exclusive, predominantly white suburbs. In 1991 Meacham Park was annexed by Kirkwood, in what local Black residents described as a land grab. This, together with decades-long racial tensions and inequalities between the two communities, formed the backdrop to two separate shootings, in 2005 and 2008, in which two Black residents killed white police officers and others. The killings shook the region and subjected the residents of Meacham Park to heightened surveillance and harassment. My research extended traditional examinations of racialized policing in urban spaces to examine Black residents’ experiences of policing in suburban locations, such as Ferguson, and how the protests against it form one prong of a larger antiviolence movement in the region.

Because Black citizens cross urban boundaries, their experiences with the police are not limited to the inner city. This necessitates critical analyses of the suburbs—especially analyses that uniquely unpack the traditional suburban milieu by accounting for antiurban sentiments and discourse (Low 2001), Black geographies (McKittrick and Woods 2007), and the social control of Black people (Alves 2018), the poor especially. If we attend to the everyday, differential experiences of Black people living in St. Louis suburban municipalities, particularly Kirkwood and Ferguson, the region's long-standing racial-spatial segregation and containment emerge as the nexus for criminalization, suburban political-economic marginalization, and an unexpected 21st-century Black uprising.


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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.