By Jinnie Spiegler, Director of Curriculum, Anti-Defamation League
On Aug. 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black teenager was shot multiple times and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. Following the shooting, hundreds of people gathered at the scene to organize vigils to remember Michael Brown as well as protest to demand answers as to why he was shot. Over the next several days, these protests, the majority of which were peaceful, were reportedly met with a heavily armed police department. As tensions escalated, reports of police using tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters, as well as protests becoming violent, emerged. Missouri’s governor stepped in and replaced local police with the state highway patrol. The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the case and will perform its own autopsy. On Aug. 15—almost a full week after Brown was killed—the police department released the name of the officer who allegedly shot him.
The story has captured the attention of the nation and the media. It struck a chord with many people who perceive the situation as emblematic of a trend in which a disproportionate number of young, unarmed black men have been killed by police officers. The story continues to make front-page headlines because of the way the police department in Ferguson and St. Louis have handled various aspects of the case and its aftermath, as well as the ongoing clashes between police and protesters.
Michael Brown’s death and the circumstances around it present opportunities to talk with students about race, inequality, bias, power, police relations with the communities they serve, activism, and social and economic justice.
1. How did you feel when you first heard the news about Michael Brown and Ferguson?
2. Do you think the race of Michael Brown and the police officer are relevant? How?
3. Do you think the anger that has been expressed is more than about Michael Brown? If so, what is it about?
4. Do you think there is justification for a heavily armed police force? Why or why not?