The act of demonizing young men of color was the main topic of discussion at the Nov. 19 “Unarmed and Dangerous” forum, co-hosted by Plattsburgh State German Language Professor Jurgen Kleist and Anthropology Professor and Honors Center Director James Armstrong.
The event, open to the public, was held to provide the Plattsburgh community an outlet to express differing viewpoints of the ethics involved in the shooting of unarmed 20-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 9.
The forum began with a panel of experts, including Director of the PSUC Institute for Ethics in Public Life Thomas Moran; Director of the PSUC Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion JW Wiley; PSUC University Police Chief Arlene Sabo; and Criminal Justice Assistant Professor Breea Willingham, presenting their views on the topic with research backing up their claims.
“UNSAFE, INEFFECTIVE AND UNJUST”
According to a timeline by the New York Times, Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, who was present during the time of Brown’s death, said a Ferguson police officer opened fire when the two young men refused to move from the middle of the street to a sidewalk.
Johnson said Brown’s hands were over his head when the officer, later identified as 28-year-old Darren Wilson, a white police officer, opened fire.
All news reports confirm that Brown was unarmed at the time of his shooting.
After news broke of Brown’s death, the Ferguson Police Department refused to release the name of the officer in question before they were able to do an internal investigation.
After establishing the background of the issue, Sabo began her comments, acknowledging that the problems facing Ferguson “force us to examine racism, violence-related policing, the militarization of police forces, diversity within police forces…” adding that she would like to transition these discussions into university police forces.
“Trust is critical,” Sabo said. “What we look for in an officer, and what I look for, are good people at the basics. That’s what I want — a good person.”
Sabo continued to say that she believed the way in which the law enforcement officials in Ferguson have handled this issue has been “unsafe, ineffective and unjust.”
“TREATED LIKE ROADKILL”
For nearly an hour after being shot, Brown’s body was left at the crime scene without being covered before being lifted up by his limbs and put into the back of a police SUV.
“He was just left on the sidewalk for everyone to see,” Willingham said. “He was treated like roadkill.”
Though efforts have been made to eliminate the presence of racism and prejudice in the United States, Willingham said the prevalence of white police officers killing young black men has not been diminished.
Between 2006 and 2012, a black man was killed by a white police officer at least twice per week, Willingham said.
Ferguson, she noted, has only “thrown a spotlight on state-sanctioned murder.”
“With the information we know, is it really any wonder that incidents like this happen?”
“EVERYONE IS OPPRESSED”
“Why didn’t Obama make this (racism) an issue?” Kleist asked both the panel and the audience members, who crowded the Alumni Conference Room.
Referencing President Barack Obama’s prompt response to the controversy over Florida teen Trayvon Martin’s death in February 2012, Wiley said the problem of discrimination is not something that can be quickly solved by only one group of people who are determined to find a solution.
“There is a lingering legacy of racism in the U.S.,” Willingham said.
Wiley agreed, saying that if this is a problem that enough people want to solve, it will be up to all racial groups and demographics to work together.
“Every person in this room has been oppressed in some way,” he said. “Everyone is both oppressed and oppressor.”
Email Maggie McVey at firstname.lastname@example.org.