A friend of mine is from Missouri; this morning in a group email someone asked for his perspective on what's going on in Ferguson. I found his response really useful so I'm sharing it here with his permission:
Where to start? I think twitter has it pretty well figured out:
a) you have a poorer, predominately black part of town under the heel of a bunch of asshole white cops eager to play soldier,
b) you have a ridiculously bad response by County cops taking over and Gov Nixon, and
c) you have huge segments of the media reluctant to actually go and cover the protests for probably racist reasons.
In short, you have a bunch of white people afraid of a bunch of black people and hoping it will just blow over quickly before they have to actually do something now, or think about uncomfortable structural problems or long-term fixes.
I grew up in Olivette, which is about four exits south of Ferguson on I-70. My parents bought their first house in 1980 in Spanish Lake, which is just NE of Ferguson. As they moved in, they were greeted by neighbors who were thrilled that "more niggers weren't moving in." That "welcome" kind of soured them on the neighborhood and they moved a year later, after I was born.
St. Louis is still very segregated. This happened in 1917: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_St._Louis_Riot. After WWII, whites fled the central city for the new suburbs in the County, leaving a poorer black core with a city that spent the next few decades slowly crumbling until white people started moving back to specific gentrified parts of the city in the late '90s to present. This is pretty much what happened in every Rust Belt city, btw. The twist is that divided government has made it almost impossible to undo this, the way it is being undone in some other cities. Government is schizophrenic - the County basically surrounds the city. While living and paying taxes in the County, white St. Louis often works in the City and plays there, e.g. Forest Park, Art Museum, Zoo, sports teams, etc, but not much of the money made or spent there actually goes to the City, meaning city schools and infrastructure are chronically underfunded, perpetuating a mostly-black underclass. That means there is a permanent tension between the affluent, majority white County and the less affluent City, divided sharply between a mostly poorer black portion on the north side of downtown and a poorer white south side. Ferguson is on the north side, but on the County side of the line, thus County cops.
This concludes "More than you ever cared to know about St. Louis, Missouri."