Ferguson prompts discussion of racism, police brutality
BY WILL PRYER & OLIVIA SINGLETON
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Racism. Police Brutality. Gun laws. The controversial issues have been prevalent in the recent news following the shootings of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice. The shootings have caused riots and discontent across the United States, predominately in New York, Cleveland, and Ferguson, due to the acquittals of the officers involved.
In response, the Black Student Union hosted ‘Discussion: Ferguson’ as an outlet to express opinions and feelings regarding the courts’ judicial verdicts.
“It’s gonna get controversial,” attendee Immanuel Jones said. “People have been taking polar sides to the topic; there is no in between.”
Office of Diversity and Inclusion student employees Lexi Byler and Jennifer Seviour organized the event.
“It’s important to have discussions on controversial topics” Byler said. “It’s good to get opinions and to learn through different perspectives.”
The Thursday event in the CMU lounge attracted a large, diverse group of people, from professors to women’s and gender studies majors. In fact, it was more popular than anticipated, which caused Byler to split the group into four.
The atmosphere quickly became heated, with the buzz of conflicted conversation palpable throughout the building.
“I’m really upset with the media coverage and it’s inconsistencies,” remarked one student. “It encourages a negative stigma against the police and African Americans alike.”
Generally, the groups scrutinized the media for its biased perceptions of the incidents, with individuals claiming that news corporations fabricated crucial information. It was especially emphasized that the 6”4, 300 pound Brown charged at Officer Wilson, repeatedly ignoring his warnings.
Adversely, there was debate as to whether Michael Brown raised his hands before the fatal shots were fired, and some even claimed that the police officer at hand, Darren Wilson, still fired to kill, despite Brown already suffering multiple hits and forced to his knees.
The media was also criticized for focusing on violent rather than peaceful protests following Brown’s death, manipulating news stories to portray protestors as violent and aggressive, rather than compassionate and constructive. Some argue the media withheld information, and formulated this material to their own agenda.
The multiple groups then merged into one, with the topic of debate predominantly concerning police brutality, linked with racism: would Brown or Rice have been shot had they been white?
This fundamental question stimulated passionate opinions, causing great discomfort for many attendees. In the case of Tamir Rice, it was argued that racial profiling was created through the combination of ethnicity and “gun” possession, ultimately leading to his death.
In retaliation, it was commented that Officer Loehmann used his firearms for protection, having been misinformed by the dispatcher that Rice was wielding a legitimate weapon.
The phrase “racism still exists” was repeatedly mentioned by individuals. It was stated that within society, we have been conditioned, through years of racist commentary and actions, to subconsciously treat the black community in a certain way. This extends to all stereotypes, and it’s clear that even today we are still stuck in a judgmental mindset.
It was commented that Loehmann had “every right” to shoot Rice, which caused some tension within the group. The general consensus was that the police aren’t always accountable for their actions: when their life is “threatened”, they are permitted use force.
But how do you judge the extent to which a person is considered to be a threat? In Tamir Rice’s case, the danger was illusory. It was argued that the police should have used intelligence to perceive the reality of the situation: a 12-year-old was playing with a toy gun.
Some individuals claimed that there was not enough evidence, particularly in the case of Michael Brown, to charge Wilson for his actions. However, both the deaths of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner were caught on camera by surveillance or personal footage, and still the officers in question were not charged.
As the event drew to a close, it became clear that the issues addressed were not new; racial equality is still a prevalent issue, and has been for decades. It is with hope that discussions like this continue to encourage learning through the opinions of others, preventing the infection of racism spreading throughout the community.