Michael Brown shooting: Where is Ferguson and how has its history shaped it?

Michael Brown was shot in the St Louis city last year

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The St Louis city of Ferguson, Missouri, was thrust under an international spotlight last year, after white police office Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

The confrontation launched the Black Lives Matter movement, and saw Ferguson's uneasy relationship between its growing black population and its majority white police force subject to worldwide scrutinty.

So, what part of its history caused the city to erupt into widespread protests when Brown was shot?

St Louis cordoned itself off

A so-called Rust Belt county St Louis cut itself off from outlying areas in 1897. The move sparked an exodus which lasted past 1970, when many white people left the area. The town was left with a poverty-stricken urban centre, surrounded by middle-class suburbs. The black population later moved into the suburban areas.

Segregated housing wasn't outlawed until 1948

The situation was not helped by the fact that St Louis has been one of the nation's most segregated metropolitan areas, according to AlJazeera America, with black people being banned from most St Louis suburbs until the late 1940s.

The city's makeup has changed

Such a history was the backdrop to the dramatic shifts in Ferguson's demographics. In 1990, almost three quarters of Ferguson’s population was white, and 25 percent black. A decade later, the percentage had shifted to 52 percent black and 45 percent white. By 2010, the 21,000-strong population comprised of 67 percent black and 29 percent white.

But, last year, African Americans made up only 5.6 per cent of the police force. And as the black population has only risen relatively recently, African Americans have struggled to secure positions of authority, Jeff Smith, an assistant professor of urban policy at the New School, explained in the New York Times.

Police officers target black citizens

Compounding this is the fact that St Louis is made up of 90 municipalities with their own authorities and police forces. These in turn secure revenue from traffic tickets and fines - meaning primarily white police officers pull over black people, wrote Smith.

And while the vast majority of stops, searches and arrests were of black people, police were more likely to find contraband on white drivers - 34 percent versus 22 percent.

But it is changing...

Since Brown was killed, steps have been taken to rebalance the power structures in Ferguson, after the government released a highly critical a report on its police and municipal court system, which prompted top city officials to resign.

A new black police chief, city manager, municipal judge have since replaced white leaders, and many new councillors are also black.

Additional reporting by AP

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