Ferguson shooting spurs discussion on race, inequality

In light of the events in Ferguson, Mo., where an unarmed African-American was shot and killed by a police officer, two SIUE professors organized a discussion in collaboration with the Edwardsville School District.

Anthropology Professor Aminata Cairo. Photo courtesy of Patrick Mitchell

Anthropology professor Aminata Cairo and psychology professor Danice Brown organized the conversation, “Exploring Ferguson: A Facilitated Youth Discussion about Race, Inequality, and Community,” at Newsong Fellowship Church in downtown Edwardsville late last month.

Parents of Edwardsville School District students approached Cairo to help them address the issues of race relations and inequality that emerged after the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

According to Cairo, people are not aware of how much racism and inequality is ingrained in our culture and social system, but, at this moment, people are more open to talk about race and injustice.

“The only way to start addressing this issue is to make people aware…,” Cairo said. “We need to break the silence particularly with kids.”

Psychology professor Denise Brown said the conversation was a positive experience since children dictated the conversation.

“This was a discussion set up for them to share their thoughts, feelings and concerns about important issues,” Brown said. “The focus was on allowing the kids to have a voice in this important discussion about ongoing struggles with social inequality.”

Brown emphasized the importance of having this type of conversation with adults and children.

“More of these conversations have to happen with kids and adults,” Brown said. “Issues of oppression and injustice won’t just fade away.”

The panel discussion was also composed by history professors Bryan Jack and Anthony Cheeseboro, as well as Tony Rothert, legal director of American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU).

Jack said the role of academics is helping the community engage the public on important issues and “understand the nature of discrimination and how it is manifested in our society.”

“There is a divide between the academy and the general public, when in reality, professors can be a great resource for the public,” Jack said.

Brown said “community engagement” offers professors an opportunity “to stay connected to peoples real life experiences.”

“Research is an important way to understand and address social injustice, but academics have to be willing to step outside of the comfort of our offices and data and get involved,” Brown said.

Jack said he was impressed with the children’s sincerity and insightful questions, while Cairo said one theme that surfaced was how children were shocked but seeing the police act that way. Questions that came up during the discussion included when and why police became the bad guys and why racism exists.

“It really hit them to see the police as the bad guys,” Cairo said.

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