Ferguson and shining a light

woman standing in front of bas relief sculptures with protest signs

A woman stands in Judiciary Square at the endpoint of the Justice for All March in Washington, DC.

 

Police-involved shooting.

That’s the term I see often now. It attempts an objective tone, a tone I tried to evoke with my classes following our first discussions of Ferguson and my recent post. I wanted to shine a light on this issue dwelling in our minds.

As I light the Hanukkah candles this week, I’m reminded how every light casts shadows. I have opinions and bias. And more observations. I want to follow up on those now.

Talking in class

In the week following the grand jury decision not to indict then-police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Ferguson resident Michael Brown, I talked to my students and tried to listen. I was impressed with their knowledge of the case. They had been following the news, not just Facebook rantings or snippets on CNN.

I told them of two convictions, my own angling of the light:

1) A black person and a white person do not receive equal treatment in the U.S. When I (a white woman) and my brother (a black man) walk down the street, we do not receive equal treatment. Many factors contribute to perception, of course. Much of the unequal treatment, I believe, isn’t so overt. However, I can’t deny that experience.

2) Looting isn’t right. It looks bad.

On further thought, I should have added: When looters are black it reflects badly on the black community. The media jumps on it. The response is different from when, say, white sports fans riot.

What others have done

On December 9, Gallaudet faculty members organized a demonstration on the main quad.

One of these colleagues talked about scrapping her original plans for the last meeting of a class on death and dying to discuss these issues. This was the last meeting of the semester, when I would have been nervous to deviate from my checklist of items about the final paper and evaluations.

On December 13, the National Action Network brought thousands to Washington, DC for the Justice for All march. I joined in. So did colleagues in the English Department at Gallaudet, and friends from the D.C. Jewish community.

 

Woman at Judiciary Square w photogs

Stepping back from the original snapshot reveals how other march-goers also wanted to capture this image.

Onward?

I’ll be teaching Fundamentals of Journalism next semester. Journalism is about shedding light. Or, as controversial reporter Glenn Greenwald says, “shining a light on what the most powerful people in the country are doing to them in the dark.” I hope I can guide them well.

Be safe, be thoughtful, and–if you’re celebrating this week–have a happy Hanukkah.

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