Ferguson Remembered

, Malcolm A. Kline, 2 Comments

Universities are still trying to make a teachable moment out of the tragedy which occurred in Ferguson, Missouri last summer but considerably less so of the death of sidewalk vendor Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD that also occurred last year. “Catholic University law professor Clifford Fishman is using the cases to teach the pros and cons of grand juries,” Lisa Grace Lednicer reported in The Washington Post magazine on February 22, 2015.” Last semester, he argued in class that the grand jury perhaps was right to not indict the officer who killed [Michael] Brown, but wrong to not indict the officer who killed [Eric] Garner.”

“The legitimacy of the grand jury and its role in our criminal justice system are being challenged in ways it hasn’t been challenged before, and it’s something my students have to know about,” Fishman says. “The fact that most police officers are white and a disproportionate number of people arrested are nonwhite means we have to confront race in any case where that is the lineup from start to finish.”

Yet and still, most academic attention, at least as relayed by the Post, is focused on Brown, who reportedly robbed a convenience store and menaced the owner and the officer who tried to stop him, rather than Garner, stopped by several New York cops when he tried selling loose cigarettes on Staten Island.  The irony of the focus is that the Brown story does not look like it fits the narrative of injustice laid out by Fishman but the Garner story appears to.

For example, Lednicer reported:

  • “The U-Md. play, ‘Collidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America,’ ran in November. In addition to Trayvon Martin, Vaughn Midder played several roles in the gender- and race-bending play. He was a slave, a Southern belle who owned slaves, a 7-year-old in a low-income family and Paul Robeson. The last scene, which included the entire multiracial cast, was of a memorial for Brown.”
  • “An assistant professor of English and film studies at Hampton University in Virginia has told her students to produce documentaries exploring their points of view about Brown, Martin and other young black men, connecting their deaths to the civil rights movement.”
  • “At San Francisco State University, a criminal justice lecturer used the grand jury transcript in the Ferguson case and unedited footage of Eric Garner’s fatal arrest in Staten Island to teach his students, many of whom are headed for careers in law enforcement, about the importance of original source material in drawing conclusions about a nationally publicized incident.”
  • “A postdoctoral fellow at Washington University in St. Louis is teaching a new class called “The Politics of Black Criminality and Popular Protest,” in which he discusses the transition from slavery to the formal and informal systems of criminal justice that have affected blacks throughout history. (The university’s library is partnering with other St. Louis-area universities and organizations to archive the outpouring of community- and media-generated content after Ferguson.)”
  • “At Baltimore’s Morgan State University, another historically black college, journalism professor Karen Houppert knew she couldn’t send her students to Missouri to cover the protests over Brown’s death, so she had them investigate Baltimore’s new curfew law, which went into effect the day before Brown was killed, aimed at making at-risk kids safer. Children younger than 14 are required to be indoors after 9 p.m., ages 14 to 16 by 10 or 11.”