It’s now been almost two months since a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot an unarmed African-American teenager, maybe for no good reason. Protests over the suspicious killing included some violence, and the local police reacted very aggressively, which led to more protests. Eventually, state law enforcement stepped in to help Ferguson police get a clue about how to handle civil unrestt. Now, we are waiting for a local grand jury to decide whether to indict the policeman and for a U.S. Justice Department investigation to untangle the truth. The death of Michael Brown is just the latest in a recent cluster of suspicious police shootings and violence against unarmed African-Americans in the United States.
What’s going on here? Are these events isolated or even justified? Or, are they a symptom of something that has been wrong in the American criminal justice system for a long time? This group has discussed police brutality and the racial inequities of our criminal justice system several times in the past. (2011: “Law enforcement: To protect and serve?” 2012: Is our mass incarceration justice system racist?”) I thought this time we could talk about either race and crime related issues or how law enforcement should handle peaceful protests that contain a violent element. We also could get into the crazy militarization of local police departments since 9/11 or broader racial (or class!) inequality issues. I’ll have a brief opening, probably one that just raises a few issues for our consideration. I’ve got a lot of reading to do on this.
Re: Links. – Tons this week with more description of them than usual so you can hone in on what interests you. Since Ferguson got vast media coverage, my links focus on broader issues raised by all of this violence, not on whether this or any other shooting might have3 been justified.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- Why are so many people so outraged by shootings like this?
- Why do American police shoot so many people, especially so many African-Americans? Is it racism? What is the evidence for this? Alternative explanations?
- Why do Whites and Blacks have such a different view about the police and the criminal justice system?
- What can be done just within law enforcement to prevent police brutality (regardless of whether Ferguson was or not)? What about outside of law enforcement?
- Militarization: How did American law enforcement get so militarized? Should it be walked back?
Ferguson, MO –
- ABCs of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and its aftermath. Recommended if you’re not familiar.
- The protesters: Some were peaceful, some not at all. Recommended.
- Will Ferguson spawn a movement or just be a moment?
The chasm in public opinion –
- Black-White polarization: African Americans overwhelmingly believe the criminal justice system treats them unfairly; Most Whites scoff at this. Recommended.
- Partisan racial polarization:. Worse, Americans are now highly polarized by political party on all racial issues. Recommended, because this is such a huge obstacle to changing anything.
Causes and Issues –
- Police shootings and brutality:
- There is a lot of it. Why? What to do? (American Conservative Magazine) Recommended.
- Four solutions. (Reason Magazine)
- Are the police in this country racist? It’s hard to know. Maybe we don’t want to know.
- We know enough; Racism is a factor.
- Or: Do U.S. cops kill so much mainly because the criminals are so heavily-armed?
- Our Officer Friendly racial divide: A personal story showing a reality you may not be aware of. Read.
Solutions (kind of) –
- Fix America’s many really bad local governments. Recommended.
- Diversify police forces: But that’s harder than it seems.
- Demilitarize the police.
- Don’t kid yourself: The problem is about way more than crime control techniques. Socioeconomically, on average Black and White Americans might as well live in different countries. This surprised even me.
Next Week: Political refugees (like all those border kids this summer): Does the U.S. admit too many or not enough?