In Ferguson People Are Walking the Walk, But Are They Talking the Talk?

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By Elijah Mercer, Education Policy and Communication Intern 

‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ is the rallying chant behind protests, riots, and recent school shut downs ignited by the fatal shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The incident transpired into a historical national and international movement.

Because of the Michael Brown and related grand jury decisions of similar magnitude, police have come under increased scrutiny for the use of excessive force against minorities.  This, in turn, has further decreased trust with law enforcement amongst members of minority communities. This cry for justice leaves a new space for teachers to educate, and for police to reach out to minority communities.

Reciprocal Teaching. Teachers have taken to avenues such as social media, public radio, and the news to address Ferguson issues in the classroom. An Education Week blog  suggests several ways teachers can get Ferguson on the agenda in their classrooms.

  • Notable suggestions come from educators like Marcia Chatelain, a history professor at Georgetown University, who used Twitter to encourage and provide resources for teachers, community members, and even police on how to discuss Ferguson by using the hash tag #FergusonSyllabus. The hash tag links to articles about racism, to instructional practices on how to facilitate conversations about the recent riots, to African American theology.
  • Additionally, the National Education Association (NEA) compiled a guide of ‘how to steps,’ to teach about racial profiling. Other educators have turned to civil rights advocacy organizations such as their local American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as a potential knowledge base.

Ferguson presents not only a teachable moment for students, but also for teacher etiquette via social media.  Vinita Hegwood resigned from her teaching position after using a racial epithet and profanity in response to racist remarks on Twitter regarding the Brown case.  Additionally, school board member Chris Harris will resign later December after posting a picture of a person dressed in a Klu Klux Klan uniform with the caption, ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ on Facebook.

These moments show us that both teachers and students alike can learn how to construct educational, yet positive conversations around Ferguson.

Police Opportunity. Police officers have taken different approaches. Political officials, clergymen, and police departments across the nation held town hall meetings to address and discuss public concern regarding police tactics, and build positive relationships with police in at-risk communities. 

  • In Charleston, South Carolina, town halls have given students, parents, and community members the opportunity to discuss issues such as the importance of including more minority members from the community on the police department.
  • Corporal Errol Randle, a black man who grew up with law enforcement in his home, learned numerous ways police can conduct outreach to minority students. Some of the suggestions included class visits, police shadowing opportunities, and stronger education programs between schools and police.
  • Police and educators in Milwaukee are a step ahead of the game. Milwaukee school districts are making efforts to include positive police interaction programs as part of its curriculum. Through the creation of the Students Talking it Over With Police (STOP) program by Officers William Singleton and Cullin Weiskopf, at-risk, minority youth with strong leadership skills have the opportunity to interact with police.
  • Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee evaluated the STOP program for possible long-term merit, progress, and tangible results. By educating young people on police practices, helping them comprehend constitutional rights, teaching both police and youth conflict resolution techniques, the researchers concluded STOP helps increase positive interactions between police and at-risk youth. A full description of the program is available online.

Programs like STOP present youth with real opportunities to build trust with policeSTOP not only provides an avenue for education, but also exposes both police and youth to the other’s cultural perceptions, with the intent to bridge the gap for both parties. STOP is a program that other police departments across the U.S. can replicate.IMG_4708

Ferguson provides a teachable moment to all Americans. It not only shows us the power and ability we have as Americans to exercise freedom, but it also teaches us about the power of conversation and education.

References

Doremus, M. (2013, May 28). How police reach out to youth. UrbanMilwaukee.com. Retrieved from http://urbanmilwaukee.com/ /05/28/flynns-force-how-police-reach-out-to-youth/

Moeny, J. (2014, Nov. 25). Resources for addressing Ferguson in the classroom. EducationWeek.org. Retrieved from  http://blogs.edweek.org/ teachers/teaching_now/2014/11/resources_for_addressing_ferguson_in_the_classroom.html

Owens, M. (2014, Nov. 13). Texas teacher resigns over Ferguson tweet. USAToday.com. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/ nation/2014/11/13/texas-teacher-resigns-over-ferguson-tweet/19007827/

Payne, A. (2014, Dec. 4). Charleston PD, community meet to discuss police interactions in wake of events in Ferguson. MetroNews.com. Retrieved from http://wvmetronews.com/2014/12/04/charleston-pd-community-meet-to-discuss-police-interactions-in-wake-of-events-in-ferguson/

Texas school board member apologizes for Khan image in Facebook post. (2014 Dec. 03). AbreakingNews.com.  http://www.abreakingnews.com/ local/texas-school-board-member-apologizes-for-klan-image-in-facebook-post-h288216.html

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