Like many of you, I’ve been watching as the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, has spiraled out of control, from the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager to a mix of peaceful protests and looting from the local population to what looks like an extremely heavy-handed response from the city police. Pictures aren’t always representative. But what has stuck out to me is that that protestors seem almost all black and the cops seem to be almost all white.
So is this just selective photojournalism? It would seem not. According to this article in the LA Times, the Ferguson City Police Department has 50 commissioned officers who are white and three who are black. According to 2012 Census Data, 65% of the population is black. 31% is white.
It’s easy to be reductive about these things. No single incident can be tied to this kind of disparity. And there are instances of black cops taking a shoot first and ask questions later approach to policing with black civilians. But at a minimum, when you’ve got police bringing out armored vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets (in addition to the old-fashioned metal kind), it’s an extremely incendiary factor to have an almost exclusively white police force squaring off against an overwhelmingly black community, venting outrage at the shooting of an unarmed kid who was two days away from starting college.