Protests broke out outside Ferguson’s police department on Wednesday night following the news that the police chief had resigned. In the image above, a protester faces officers outside the police department and court buildings.
US new outlets are reporting that two officers were shot nearby in the early hours of Thursday morning; both have been hospitalised with injuries that are serious, but not life-threatening.
Tensions between police and citizens in Ferguson have been running high since Michael Brown, an African-American teenager, was fatally shot by police last August. They were heightened even further by the news in November that a grand jury would not indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown.
Earlier this month, the US Justice Department found that the city’s police “routinely violate rights of blacks”, and recommended that the department should be reformed. The police chief, Thomas Jackson, announced his resignation yesterday, but according to CNN, he will remain on full pay for a year. Ferguson’s municipal court judge has already resigned, as have two police commanders and the city’s manager.
As a result of the events since August, and the debate they sparked about police’s relationship with African-Americans, Ferguson is now a household name. But, as is so often the way of American cities, it isn’t really a city at all: it’s a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, with a population of just over 20,000 (translated into British English, that’s about the size of Dorchester, which isn’t very big). It was built up around a new depot in the 19th century, and now covers about six square miles in total:
Over the past quarter century, the area’s demographics have shifted quite dramatically. Affording to Forbes, 25 per cent of the Ferguson population was African-American in 1990; now, the figure stands at around 67 per cent. The piece’s author argues that this shift could hold some explanation for the disjunct between the city’s governance structures and its citizens now:
The reasons for the shift go all the way back to the late 19th century when the city of St. Louis separated from the county.
The city itself experienced a major population decline (like many places across America’s Rust Belt) which involved blacks leaving the poverty-ravaged central areas of St. Louis and settling in suburbs like Ferguson. The black population increased while the white power structure remained intact.
St Louis proper, while we’re here, has a population of around 320,000 (the wider metro area houses around 10 times that). The city itself is pretty evenly split between its black and white populations; the wider St Louis metro area is still three-quarters white even today. This is a pretty divided city we’re talking about here.
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