#Ferguson. Each week, Educating Modern Learners will pick one interesting current event – whether it’s news about education, technology, politics, business, science, or culture – and help put it in context for school leaders, explaining why the news matters and how it might affect teaching and learning (in the short or in the long run). This week (the week of August 11), Audrey Watters looks at the shooting death of an unarmed young Black man by police in Ferguson, Missouri.
On Saturday, August 9, eighteen year old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was walking to his grandmother’s house. He was unarmed.
The police claim there was a physical confrontation between the officer and Brown. Brown’s friend Dorin Johnson, who was with him at the time, said the two were walking in the middle of the street when the officer pulled up and demanded they move to the sidewalk. According to Johnson, the two fled, and Brown was shot repeatedly as he held his hands up in the air. “I don’t have a gun. Stop shooting.”
Brown’s dead body was left in the street for hours.
The neighborhood responded with protests and vigils almost immediately, gathering at the site of the shooting with their hands in the air. “Don’t shoot,” they chanted.
According to some reports, more than 100 police officers were summoned to the community in response. On Sunday night, a nearby QuikTrip gas station, site of several vigils, was set on fire. In response, the city called in the SWAT team who fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. The mayor threatened anyone protesting with arrest. The FAA announced air restrictions over Ferguson.
Protests have continued. The police force has responded with an escalation of their tactics and weaponry. And arrests have continued as well, including several reporters and St. Louis City alderman Antonio French.
The police have not released the name of the officer who shot Brown, nor have they revealed how many times Brown was shot.
The Ferguson-Florissant school district has postponed the start of the school year, which was scheduled to begin on Thursday.
Michael Brown was set to start college this week too. After the shooting, his mother said to the media, “Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many.” Indeed, the graduation rate at his high school was 58%. (Education journalist Dana Goldstein takes a closer look at that school.)
“So what do we do as educators?” writes Science Leadership Academy principal Chris Lehmann “What is our role? For to pretend that this does not enter our classrooms, our schools, is to run the risk of allowing ourselves to be complicit in the system that left Mike Brown’s body in the street for hours. How we teach, how we frame this issue with students is incredibly difficult and complex, and so many of the resources, ideas and suggestions created after Jordan Davis’ killer was not convicted of murder are appropriate again. It is incredibly daunting to think about how we frame this issue in our classrooms, but that cannot be the reason for educators to shy away from it. And, if nothing else, now is a moment where educators need to listen deeply to students who need to express what they are feeling.”
What is unfolding in Ferguson is a result of systemic racism and police militarization. Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci adds that what is happening in Ferguson and with the social media response —#Ferguson — “is also a net neutrality issue. It’s also an algorithmic filtering issue. How the internet is run, governed and filtered is a human rights issue.” What stories get told, whose stories get told?
Image credits: Lucas Cobb