The Washington Post

What happened in Ferguson could be happening anywhere. But it was more likely in Missouri.

For the second night running, it was relatively calm on the streets of Ferguson, Mo., as National Guard troops prepared to withdraw from the city where Michael Brown was fatally shot almost two weeks ago. (Reuters)

Police, investigators, the nation and the people of Ferguson, Mo., are still trying to figure out what happened there and why.

As for why the situation has become the powder keg that it has, it's worth looking at the state of race relations there. And as it happens, Missouri appeared to be a particularly likely candidate for something like this.

According to numbers crunched by Gallup, Missouri residents last year rated it 49th out of the 50 states when it comes to being a good place for minorities. Only West Virginia ranked lower.

About three-quarters (76 percent) of Missouri residents said their area is a good place for minorities, while 22 percent said it was not.


At the same time, that's still more than three-to-one positive. Gallup's Frank Newport posits the following:

Ferguson has a population of about 21,000 people, a fraction of Missouri’s overall population of 6 million -- giving Ferguson about one-third of one percent of the state’s population. But Ferguson is part of the St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is by far the biggest region of the state, comprising just under half of the state’s population. So when a relatively low percentage of residents across the entire state interviewed in our poll say that the area or city where they live is a good place to live for racial minorities, a lot of those residents are talking about the St. Louis area. 

I would argue that it works the other way too. Given the St. Louis area is such a big portion of the state's population, if the state overall ranks 49th, it's safe to assume the St. Louis area ranks similarly toward the bottom in the United States -- even as the vast majority of residents might think things are just fine.

It also seems possible that areas with higher minority populations -- like St. Louis -- might see more racial tension than the rest of the state. Ferguson's history with race relations has been well-documented in recent days, particularly as a heavily black city with a heavily white police force.

Still, many states with big minority populations have residents who think their states are good places for minorities, and vice versa. So there's not necessarily a strong correlation between the size of a minority population in an area and the perception that it's a bad place for minorities.

Either way, though, Gallup's numbers suggest Missouri was one of the more likely candidates for the kind of unrest we're seeing today. That doesn't mean it was bound to happen there; just that the potential was probably there more so than a lot of states.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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