Months have passed since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, but now his death has led to nationwide unrest and a continued conversation on race.
A decision by a Grand Jury on November 24 to not indict Officer Darren Wilson led to more riots in Ferguson and across the nation. Sympathizers to the Brown family took to the streets in cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
Those who contested the Grand Jury ruling, most notably the Brown family and civil rights activists such as Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, declared that the decision to not indict was race-based.
“The fact is, for three and a half months, this was a jury of no substance,” Jackson said in a speech on November 29. “[This was] no jury of integrity. No real America. This was a hangman’s noose.”
Despite the numerous peaceful protests in several other American cities, such as New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, most attention was given to Ferguson, where a second round of rioting tore through the city.
“It’s a very complex situation,” said Mr. Williams, Malvern alumnus and Assistant Head of Admissions. “There was certainly heartache and disappointment that there was no indictment. Still, it’s upsetting that there is looting and rioting, because it won’t result in change; it will only add to stereotypes.”
When asked if the presence of Jackson and Sharpton played a part in the tensions, Williams said, “I don’t always feel that their presence can stir tension. They both want equal treatment [for all people], and their intentions are good.”
Were charges of first-degree murder – premeditated murder with an intent to kill – too ambitious? Ms. Pamela Zbrzeznj, Global Perspectives teacher and moderator for the Mock Trial team, said, “There are different types of murder that can be committed, and different crimes he [Wilson] could have been charged with.”
“He did kill a human being, and it was something that they [the Grand Jury] were trying to uphold with the law. Had they tried him for something different, there would have been a different outcome,” said Zbrzeznj.
Mr. Rick Poce, who has brought this case up in in his Social Justice class, has been following the story since the summer. For his class he used a Facebook post by Benjamin Watson to which the class “responded positively. They seemed to like it because of the middle-road approach that he used.”
He felt that the students genuinely wanted to discuss it since it was a “hot button topic… [that] certainly fell within the subject range of prejudice and racism [of the class’s curriculum].”
“Part of the beauty of a class like this, students get to learn to express their opinions in a critical way,” said Poce.
Overall, Poce says he was very satisfied with his class’s moderate and active take on the issue, and he hopes to be able to bring up other relevant news items that can further develop the opinions of his students.
Poce was not the only faculty member to bring up Ferguson to students in class. Father Thom Meehan, Biblical Studies teacher and Head of the Theology Department, discussed the issue with his classes a few times.
“The students really had an attitude of not wanting to be afraid of the police. They [the police] need to be protectors first, and then correctors,” said Meehan.
One proposed solution for preventing another Ferguson is planting video cameras on officers, so that there will be fewer abuses of power. However, this may not be a perfect solution.
“Even with cameras,” Mr. Williams said, “there can be a lack of responsibility. Look at what happened with Eric Garner.”
Garner was put into a chokehold by New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17, 2014, and died soon after. The incident was captured on cell phone video, but Pantaleo was also not indicted by a grand jury, leading to even more unrest and protests in New York.
“What needs to be done is better training for life-threatening situations and psych evaluations,” said Williams.
“God gave us hands to create,” Father Thom said, “Not to destroy. How can we use them to create peace?” While Ferguson shows that race can still be an issue, the dialogue at Malvern shows there is hope for the future.