Three days after the death of Michael Brown, the young unarmed black man who died after being shot by a police officer, racial tension has been unleashed on the streets of the city of Ferguson, Missouri.
For the fourth consecutive night, several hundred people protested Tuesday against local police for the apparently unreasonable shooting in which Brown was shot at least eight times by an officer whose identity is still unknown.
Around midnight the many security officers deployed to deal with protesters began launching tear gas at some demonstrators. Also, around the area where Brown died, a woman was shot in the head, for no apparent reason. The cause of the shooting is still unknown.
Brown’s fatal shooting took place early Saturday afternoon at the corner of two commercial streets in Ferguson, a town of 21,000 inhabitants located about 15 miles north of downtown St. Louis.
The death of the 18 year old teenager is still surrounded by mystery, because police have decided to maintain details about the shooting secret. This secrecy has increased the ire of many residents of the neighborhood, populated mostly by African Americans.
The County Police ensures that an agent whose identity has not been revealed had “an encounter with two individuals” and that Brown pushed him inside his vehicle, “attacked him” and fought for his gun, to which the agent responded with several fatal shots. However, the family and some neighborhood residents question this version. The guy with him says Brown threw his hands in a peace sign and the police opened fire when the young man refused to move from the center of the roadway to the curb.
Neighbors accuse the police of using racist overtones while engaging civilians and Brown’s death has made even more volatile the relationship between police and citizens, who have released their anger and resentment after the apparent crime.
Terry Jones, professor of Public Policy and Political Science at the University of Missouri-St Louis, explains that “it is not unusual” in Ferguson and other locations in San Luis to have peaceful protests of the black community in denouncing racial discrimination by the police and the labor and housing markets.
“What is surprising is the looting and rioting. San Luis does not have a history of it, “said Jones in a telephone interview. According to Jones, during the 1960s, 60 days of racial fighting and segregation demonstrations in San Luis only led to minor altercations.
Jones says that in 1917, when violent clashes between blacks and whites broke out between on the other side of the Mississippi River in the State of Illinois, there were no registered major altercations in the metropolitan area of San Luis that includes the city of Ferguson.
After Brown’s death on Saturday neighbors have taken to the streets to carry out peaceful protests during the day accusing the police of acting with racism and demanding an investigation of the facts and the arrest of the gunman. Protests turned violent especially Sunday night and Monday.
Some rioters looted shops and threw stones at police officers, who responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas. About 50 people were arrested.
In a sign of concern from the federal government, the Justice Department has opened an investigation of the facts.
Until 1960, Ferguson and other parts of northern San Luis were inhabited mostly by white citizens, but the end of racial segregation in schools brought about an exodus of whites to more remote areas of San Luis, a trend that was repeated in many other American cities.
“In 1980 the proportion was 50% among blacks and whites, and African Americans now account for two-thirds of the population,” says Jones. A quarter of the residents live below the federal poverty level. Double the average rate of the State of Missouri.
The racial mosaic, however, has not translated into changes in the composition of the Police and the Mayor. Only three of the 53 police officers Ferguson are black.
In recent years there has been increased racially motivated tension between police and residents of Ferguson. Last year, suspension of the only black superintendent of the city school board sparked several protests. And the Department of Justice launched an investigation into alleged discrimination in the legal representation of youth in family courts.
According to a 2013 attorney general of Missouri, Ferguson Police stopped and arrested black drivers nearly twice times more than whites. It is a common set of disparity in the USA. Of the total arrested in 2012 in the country, 28.1% were black.
So a black man is six times more likely to be imprisoned than a white one, and 2.5 times more than a Latino, according to the latest data compiled by The Sentencing Project, a civilian organization. Now, the tension behind these figures has been unleashed on the streets of Ferguson.
Luis R. Miranda is the Founder and Editor of The Real Agenda. His 16 years of experience in Journalism include television, radio, print and Internet news. Luis obtained his Journalism degree from Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, where he graduated in Mass Media Communication in 1998. He also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting from Montclair State University in New Jersey. Among his most distinguished interviews are: Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres and James Hansen from NASA Space Goddard Institute. Read more about Luis.