American University talks Ferguson

“Just because my son is a 6’4″ male black walking down the city street does not meet he meets the profile for anything other than just walking down the street,” said Michael Brown’s mother Lesley McSpadden to CNN’s Don Lemon.

Michael Brown, 18, an unarmed African American man was fatally shot by white officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. on August 9, 2014, under disputed circumstances. The shooting has lead to riots and protests in Ferguson against the predominantly white police force in the county.

On September 3, 2014 the Kay Spiritual Life Center at American University held a Table Talk about the recent events in Ferguson titled, “Ferguson, MO: At The Intersection of Race, Media, and Police Militarization.” The Office of Campus Life sponsored the event attended by about 100 people. The panel consisted of five AU professors representing several academic fields.

School of International Service Professor, Clarence Lusane, started with citing the historic U.S Supreme Court ruling in March 1857 in Scott v. Sandford which stated that blacks were not and cannot be American citizens and that they were merely property; this ruling was made in a Missouri court. “It’s impossible not to think of that statement looking at Ferguson, Missouri,” said Lusane. The issue of police wrongdoing against African American has been going on long before the Wilson-Brown incident, Lusane explained.

“How did the police become military?” professor of Justice, Law & Criminology, Brian Frost wondered. He cited Jelani Cobb’s essay, Bullets and Ballots in The New Yorker where he said, “The city of Ferguson, which is sixty-seven per cent black, has never had a black mayor, and five of its six city-council members are white. Only three of its fifty-three police officers are black.” He offered his insight about the ethnic and racial classification in police departments and the changes that need to be made to arrest policies and training the police to be more sensitive to communities.

Brenda Smith, professor of Law started engaged the audience by saying, “I’m gonna start out with saying a few names and want people to raise their hands if they know who they are.” She ended the list of names of people –who were victims of racial violence– with her daughter’s name bringing Michael Brown’s case to a personal and sensitive place. People didn’t recognize all the names, which proved the American society’s racism and the media’s failure to report those cases. John Watson, assistant professor in School of Communications said that the media’s role is “to give voice to the voiceless,” He explained how democracy cannot function if the people didn’t have all the information they need.

Professor of Sociology Celine-Marie Pascale offered a sociological view to the Ferguson case. Explaining how racism still exists in communities calling it “the business of white people because white people are the racists.” Pascale elaborated that racism is a worldview that makes everything white people do ordinary and what black people or other colors do not ordinary; leading her to ask “what does it take to see each other connected to each other and connected to our history?”