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A town in turmoil -- 5 things about Ferguson, Missouri

By Ashley Fantz and Dana Ford, CNN
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
  • NEW: Three of the city's 53 officers are African-American
  • 67% of Ferguson's population is black; 29% is white
  • It's about 10 miles north of downtown St. Louis
  • Mayor: "It's the place where everybody knows your name"

(CNN) -- Ferguson, Missouri, has been in the national spotlight since Saturday when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a local police officer. Witnesses said the teen was unarmed; police say that he had tried to get an officer's gun.

Outrage quickly followed the shooting as many in the town charged that the killing was racially motivated. The teenager was black. The officer has not yet been identified publicly.

Turmoil has broken out, dozens have marched in the street and tensions are high.

As the story continues to develop, here's a quick look at its backdrop -- Ferguson, a suburb in the shadow of St. Louis:

1. Are racial tensions getting worse?

Antonio French is a St. Louis alderman who lives near Ferguson. He told CNN on Monday that racial tensions in the suburb aren't unique to Ferguson but part of a larger and wider frustration that has been worsening over time in the area -- a notion that a Washington Post article explores.

"What's happening in Ferguson isn't different from a lot of municipalities out here in St. Louis County ... small municipalities that have large African-American population and very few black police officers," French said, adding that there is a disconnect between the people and those who police them.

"Tensions have been rising for years and years," he said.

Ferguson is a predominately black community with a mostly white police force. Only three of the city's 53 officers are African-American.

It's a statistic Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson says he's working to improve. He told CNN that racial profiling is "strictly forbidden."

"We actually have mandatory racial profiling training that we have to take to be certified," he said. "Racial profiling is against our policies. It actually benefits nothing."

2. Who lives in Ferguson?

Mom: 'You took my son away from me'
Police chief: 'We can get to the truth'
Ferguson mayor: Remain calm

According to the most recent census, 67% of Ferguson's community is black; 29% is white; there is less than 1% Asian and Native American. A little more than 1% of the population is Hispanic or Latino. Its residents are mostly young; the average age is 31. Median household income is about $37,000. Twenty two percent of people in Ferguson live below the poverty line.

3. Where is it?

About 10 miles north of downtown St. Louis, Ferguson is one of many cities that comprise St. Louis County. The first thing you see when you click on the Ferguson city website is a community family fun fair happening this weekend in the St. Louis suburb of 22,400 and a video that promises to describe the town. Bluesy, folksy music plays while a camera pans down well-trimmed streets dotted with large homes.

4. What do its leaders say?

"Everyone knows everyone. Everyone feels like they're comfortable no matter who they are," Councilman Dwayne James says in the video.

Mayor James Knowles describes the businesses that are flourishing -- new lofts, a farmer's market, a brew-and-coffee house. He hopes they will help bring people to the city and encourage them to stay, including the younger crowd from nearby University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"The whole city is kind of like the bar in 'Cheers.' You know, it's the place where everybody knows your name," Knowles says.

5. What's the city's history?

William B. Ferguson founded the city in 1894 as a station for a railroad. Ferguson is proud of its history.

"Historic preservation is a big part of what we do in Ferguson because it's one of those resources that cannot be replicated. You can always rebuild a house but you cannot rebuild the integrity and the history that is in some of our historic homes and some of our historic buildings. And so maintaining that's always been a big part of Ferguson," the mayor says in the video.

What we know about Michael Brown's shooting

Teen was two days away from starting college

Opinion: How many unarmed people have to die?

CNN's Tristan Smith contributed to this report.

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