Ferguson: Events in Missouri Spark Conversations on Campus
Ferguson: Events in Missouri spark conversations on campus
Following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014 the residents of Ferguson took to the streets to demand justice. The protests made national and international headlines for weeks as local and state police cracked down on the seemingly non-stop protests using military grade weapons and vehicles, arresting journalists and issuing mandatory curfews.
The subsequent events in Missouri sparked national conversations on police treatment of black Americans, racial disparities in the criminal justice system, police militarization and racism in the 21st century.
As has been the case in other recent uprisings such as Occupy Wall Street, the “Arab Spring” and similar protests around the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, social media has been at the forefront of organizing, reporting, and dialogue.
Black teens angered by some media outlets’ negative portrayal of Brown as a “thug” used the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown on Twitter to collectively ask,“If they gunned me down, which picture would they use [in the news]?”
Others used the hashtag #Igotthetalk to highlight the differences that people of color face compared to whites in dealing with the police.
Ripples of Ferguson felt at ODU
Creating a hashtag of their own, #speakup, ODU students have begun conversations here on campus. Led by public health major and social justice advocate Morgan Malone, “A Call to Action” has met on the last two Sundays in the Perry Library to discuss racial injustice, militarized police, police brutality, racial injustice and the cradle-to-prison pipeline among other issues.
“in order to be the change you want to see, this is the first step– working together to brainstorm and try to make a solution,” said Jared Mays.
“In order to build a movement, you need a narrative. In order to build a narrative, you need a story,” Malone explained at the first meeting. Students were encouraged to share their experiences and discuss potential solutions to problems from media and self-perception to police training and abuse. Many shared personal stories of racial profiling and unfair police scrutiny.
“For those people who are subject to it, it keeps us on edge,” said Otis Johnson Jr. “I’m a law-abiding citizen but I still don’t feel comfortable around the police, even though I know there’s some good police officers in this world– there’s plenty of them… Since we live in a spot that’s all about voting and liberty and freedom, nobody should have to feel like that,” he said.
“I just feel like, like he said, sometimes I don’t feel comfortable around the police… I feel like just me being a tall dark-skinned male with tattoos, I feel like they assume something about me, ya know? When they don’t even know me, just based off of how I look,” Trey Williams said.
The mass media was a common target for blame, even in shaping police bias against people of color.
“I think it’s the villainization of black people as a whole – if you have dark skin, if you have tattoos, based on what the media puts out, you’re meant to be scared of them,” said Natalie Sole
Also apparent in the group was a hunger for action and a frustration with complacency in regards to the status quo.
“I’m tired of people just talking about it and not really doing anything, and I believe our generation can change that,” Williams said.
Although she convened the meetings and acted as facilitator, Malone insists she’s not the leader, and this is not just an organization. It’s a “collective.”
“I personally don’t subscribe to the organizational structure,” she said, “I believe in grassroots movements… If we’re going to do something, I prefer for it to be natural and organic.”
Malone is no stranger when it comes to these issues. She actually went to Ferguson at the end of August.
“As soon as I flew in, someone from legal defense department came and picked me up,” Malone said.
She went straight from the airport to the scene of a protest. Outside agitators – representatives of the Revolutionary Communist party – attempted to stir the trouble, but to no avail. According to Malone, Florissant Avenue’s protesters were peaceful.
Main conflict comes from people who don’t live here protesting with motives that aren’t pure.
— Morgan Mikhail . (@morganmikhail) August 24, 2014
Malone is a community development consultant working “on the ground” to formulate plans for the next steps in achieving civil justice. Acknowledging that protesting and rallying have generated global awareness on the matter, Malone stressed that “strategic planning,” rather than unorganized vocalizations of discontent, is what needs to take shape. This, in her opinion, is the reason for why the protests have, in large part, died in the past week – because people are now ready to move on toward solutions. The hard part is that there are so many groups involved in developing a solid framework for the next big step. Following her first night in St. Louis, she spent the remainder of her visit with the family of Mike Brown. “No one wants to bury a child,” she said, when asked of her personal analysis of how the family feels.
Leaving the funeral with a heavy heart…
— Morgan Mikhail . (@morganmikhail) August 25, 2014
Malone was surprised by the fact that only three members of Mike Brown’s family at the funeral spoke of his life. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy. The unfortunate part, for Malone, was that she was given little insight into Brown’s past history, especially in the face of the negative characterizations place posthumously on him by right wing media outlets.
According to NBC, “Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday [Sept. 4] announced a sweeping federal civil rights investigation of the police department of Ferguson, Missouri, citing a ‘deep mistrust’ between officers and the people who live there.”
In recent days, Ferguson residents have continued to march and disrupted city council meetings demanding the arrest of Officer Wilson and the removal of prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch, who many believe will not fully pursue justice against Wilson.
Could it Happen Here?
When questioned about whether the students could envision an occurrence of that magnitude in Norfolk, the answers were incredibly similar. “It could happen anywhere,” said Hadley Strelau.
Many felt that indeed instances of police brutality and racism indeed are frequently occurring elsewhere. On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black male, was arrested on the street in New York City. Officers detained Garner in a chokehold, and within minutes of being arrested, he died. It was later determined that the tactics used to control Garner contributed to his death.
Cloteal Tinsley said, “There have been multiple incidents lately. It’s becoming a trend.“
According to documents obtained by the Mace & Crown by FOIA, the Norfolk Police Department did not acquire any substantial amount of military-grade equipment or vehicles through the DOD’s 1033 program. The controversial program has been cited as the means by which police departments around the country – notably Ferguson – acquire their military-grade equipment and vehicles. In total NPD acquired two “Deuce and a half’s, two water buffalos, and 19 M-14 rifles,” which are mainly used for “Honor Guard functions.”
According to the documents, NPD has had no instances of shootings of unarmed suspects since 2009.
The department’s white-to-black racial makeup is about five to one, with 555 white officers and 123 black officers. According to 2010 U.S. Census data, the City of Norfolk is 47.1 percent white and 43.1 percent black.
“A Call to Action” meets Sundays in the Perry Library at 7:30 p.m.