Long Before Michael Brown – Ferguson, MO’s PD Had A Race Problem

1280px-St._Louis_-_Ferguson_-_McKinney_Dry_Goods_Co.Before an unarmed black man was shot and killed by Ferguson, Missouri police; before rioting; before Al Sharpton stepped into ask for peace, the Ferguson Police Department had a serious problem with their handling of race relations. The slaying of merely brought their problems to a head and it finally shone a national light on them.

Ferguson is a small town, with a population of only about 21,000. It should not have been thrust into the national spotlight. Ferguson is a suburb of St. Louis, which as the Washington Post reports, is one of the most heavily segregated metropolitan areas in the country. Ferguson, which was once primarily white in demographics, is now about two-thirds African-American. Just 14 years ago, it was about half African-American.

However, the shift hasn’t happened in the police department. Out of 53 members, just three are black. The mayor, the police chief and most of the city council are white. Of course, that’s not to say that white police officers can’t be racially neutral, but in Ferguson, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

One of the demands of the protestors in Ferguson is that the police force begin to resemble the population of the town.

Despite the fact that 68 percent of the population is African-American, 86 percent of traffic stops were of African-American drivers last year. The rate of searches is double if the driver is black versus a white driver. Ironically, contraband is far more likely to be found in a car with a white driver yet black people are the ones arrested 93 percent of the time.

Image from Reason.com

Image from Reason.com

This isn’t the first time the area has been put on notice for its race relations. Last year, St. Louis County police Lt. Patrick Hayes was fired after allegedly ordering officers to target black people. The NAACP was involved and they asked the federal Department of Justice to look into the matter.

It’s tough to believe that Ferguson, or St. Louis County, is isolated. In fact, we know it’s not. Ferguson might be extreme, but there are racial disparities throughout law enforcement. Like Selma, Alabama, which lit the fuse under the Civil Rights Era, we can only hope that Ferguson will finally put racial injustice among police departments and the justice system in general front and center.