NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The riots that ravaged Baltimore, Md. last month "can happen anywhere," says the Mayor of Birmingham, Ala., a city with a history of civil rights unrest. "You have a generation of people who are languishing and because of that, any little spark can set off what we've seen in Baltimore," according to Birmingham Mayor William Bell.
Violent protests occurred in Baltimore in April after Freddie Gray, an African-American resident, was hurt following his arrest. Legal charges have since been filed against the police officers. The incident followed last summer's fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an African American man, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
Mayor Bell told TheStreet TV that in those two cases, police were seen as an occupying force in their communities. He says Birmingham over the years has developed sensitivity training for its police department.
The city was recently selected by the U.S. Justice Department as one of six pilot cities in the nation to participate in what's known as the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, which aims to improve relationships and increase trust between minority communities and the criminal justice system.
"We can go back and recount some of the things that happened with our police department in the '50s and '60s, but because of that, we've become more sensitive to come up with programs and ways to make sure the community and the police work together," Bell said.
Birmingham is considered one of the most important cities in the nation's tumultuous civil rights movement. A 1963 boycott to end segregation focused America's attention on racial discrimination and the aggressive tactics used by police on protesters.
Mayor Bell also recently announced plans to renovate an historic hotel in Birmingham for the Freedom Center, a $10-million human rights center and policy institute.
Birmingham is in the middle of a building boom, with $600 million worth of residential and business redevelopment projects under way in its downtown area. The resurgence has helped to add 9,400 jobs in Birmingham in the last three years. The mayor says the local economy has also been helped by the presence of Mercedes Benz (owned by Daimler AG (DIA))and Honda (HMC:ADR), both of which are ramping up production in Birmingham.