WASHINGTON -- The mayor of Ferguson, Missouri, says there's no racial split in his community and that nearly all residents would agree with him, despite over a week of violent clashes between protesters and police over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager fatally shot by a white police officer.
"There's not a racial divide in the city of Ferguson," Mayor James Knowles said Tuesday in an interview on MSNBC's "NewsNation" with Tamron Hall. "That is the perspective of all residents in our city. Absolutely."
He later put the level of community support "in the 95th percentile" in terms of how local leaders have been responding to the situation.
A visibly perplexed Hall pressed Knowles on how he could say that, given the week's events: a militarized and mostly white police force has been turning up nightly -- with tear gas, armored vehicles and rubber bullets -- to counter a group of mostly peaceful black protesters furious about the lack of answers surrounding Brown's death. In a city that is 67 percent black, just three of the city's 53 officers are African-American, and reports have found a high incidence of racial profiling. In 2013, 86 percent of Ferguson police stops and 92 percent of their searches were of black people, according to a 2013 report from the Missouri attorney general.
Knowles conceded that more needs to be done to diversify the police force. But he pinned the nightly violence on the streets on a small group of people and said it isn't representative of the community of roughly 22,000.
"The city of Ferguson has been a model for the region about how we can transition from a community that was predominantly white middle-class to a community that is predominately African-American middle-class," Knowles said. "We're all middle-class residents who believe in the same shared values. Those are the things we've been focusing on."
Before switching to another subject, Hall noted that plenty of people in Ferguson are struggling economically.
"We know you're not all middle-class because the unemployment rate is double-digits," she said. "That's not accurate."
President Barack Obama touched on the racial tensions simmering after Brown's shooting during remarks on Monday. He treaded lightly, though.
"In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and left as objects to fear," Obama said. "Part of the ongoing challenge of perfecting our union has involved dealing with communities that feel left behind."