It is impossible to live in St. Louis, Missouri, without noticing that race defines the metropolitan area. I spent four years in the Wash U Bubble, where even more adventurous students did not venture outside off of campus much, and even there we could all feel it. Hundreds of years of policy and prejudice, some parts more deliberate than others, have inextricably tied race and wealth together. The City is poor and black, the County is rich and white. North of Delmar is poor and black, South of Delmar is rich and white. There are exceptions, but the rule unfortunately holds all too much. It's stunted the region in nearly every way it could.
The events of the last week surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown by a so-far-unnamed police officer have to be understood in this frame. Here are two maps - one of St. Louis' racial divide and one of St. Louis' poverty rates - that show how the economics of race, power, and privilege tell such different stories north and south of Delmar.
Blue indicates white residents and green indicates black residents. The area of Ferguson where protests and militarized police are is just south of where it says Berkeley in the above map. Notice how the racial divide looks so much like the poverty divide:
Ferguson's school district is the large J-shaped district at the top of the map, where the poverty rate is in the 17.9-29.3% range. That's above the national average. The large dark area is the City of St. Louis. Outside of the City, notice the same north-south divide that the first map has.
That's no coincidence: in St. Louis, the black community is deeply impoverished. The white population, not so much. Everything going on in St. Louis now builds on this dichotomy.