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Racial Tension in the Corridor

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS 2/FOX 28) -- A police officer shot and killed 17-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri over the weekend.
The incident caused widespread violence in the St.  Louis suburb. Several buildings were damaged and more than 40 people arrested. Tuesday night, another teen was shot, after he allegedly pointed a gun at an officer.

University of Iowa professor Colin Gordon is an expert on the complicated racial history of the St. Louis area (as documented in his study 'Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City' found here.

"St. Louis became by the 1960's and 1970's one of the most segregated cities in the country," Gordon says.

He says housing discrimination and racist policies tore the city apart. By the 1980's the nearby suburb of Ferguson ended up being a zone of racial transition for blacks and whites looking to get out.

It all lead to somewhat of a paradox.

"While their population is largely African American, they're largely governed and policed by white citizens," Gordon says.

The result of all that - the marches, anger and tension you're seeing now. However, those feelings aren't limited to the 'Show Me State'.

"There is tension," says Dedric Doolin, president of the Cedar Rapids NAACP. "Which is why we're trying to work with the police department."

Doolin says he can't promise what's going on in Missouri won't happen here. He says avoiding that starts with education on both sides - educating people of their rights, and educating officers.

"Often times some of the officers - not all of the officers - but some of the officers don't know how to interact with people in the community," Doolin says. "Particularly young black men."

Studies, like one performed by ACLU on disproportionate drug arrests among African Americans, show it's an Iowa-wide problem.

It's also a problem well documented in Iowa City.

"Traffic stops were high," Botchway says. "From the community standpoint police abuse was high."

Since an ad-hoc diversity committee was introduced in 2012...

"We are progressing slowly...very slowly."

Botchway says Iowa City isn't the powder keg that Ferguson is, but some of the same issues that tore St. Louis apart exist here - so that can quickly change.

"When you have this...between the haves and have not...eventually it's going to come to a head."

Doolin says the NAACP is working directly with Police Chief Wayne Jerman to address some of those issues. Botchway says groups are being formed in Iowa City - including the 'Black Voices Project' - to give African Americans more of a say in the community.

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