Scholars Discuss and Reflect on Events in Ferguson
August 29, 2014 – A Georgetown panel of scholars pointed to a need to address a cycle of racial and economic inequality in the nation as they discussed and reflected on events surrounding the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri.
“When I think about being here at Georgetown and our strong commitment to social justice and our Jesuit values [and] when we get outraged at all of the ways that black life is devalued, I think that’s when we take Ferguson from a moment to a movement,” said law professor Paul Butler, author of Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice.
The Gaston Hall event, “Reflections on Ferguson,” featured Butler and also Marcia Chatelain, assistant professor of history; Michael Eric Dyson, university professor; Peter Edelman, professor of law; Maurice Jackson, associate professor of history; and Douglas Reed, associate professor of government.
Georgetown Provost Robert Groves moderated the event and President John J. DeGioia also gave remarks.
Convergence of Movements
Chatelain launched a #FergusonSyllabus twitter campaign this month as a resource for educators throughout the country to share ideas on how to discuss the shooting of Michael Brown and the unrest that followed his death in Ferguson with their students.
She said she found it “remarkable” how Ferguson appeared to spawn a “convergence of movements.”
“You had folks from Occupy [Wall Street]. You had Sandy Hook families. You had Dream Defenders. You had the heads of major LGBT organizations making very clear statements about the intersectional nature of what was happening in Ferguson,” she said.
Privilege and Human Dignity
Dyson, who has written numerous books on race, religion and hip-hop culture, said poverty plays a role in the disparate treatment of people in America, but race may play even a heftier role when it comes to being treated with human dignity.
“If you have the privilege that when you interact with a policeman that they assume you’re human and that they do not presume to detain you because of contaminated stereotypes about your being, the greatest privilege is not wealth … the greatest privilege is to be presumed as a human being … to be treated with dignity,” he said.
Dyson and Butler said the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative is a start in determining what’s needed to eliminate the occurrence of incidents similar to the unrest in Ferguson, but it’s incomplete.
“These young men don’t need role models they need lives,” Butler said referring to the inequality stacked against young men of color. “It’s not the brothers who need fixing it’s the keepers.”
Students asked questions of the panelists during the communitywide discussion and shared some of their own experiences.
Earlier this week, members of the university community gathered in Red Square to remember Brown during a student-led vigil organized by the Black Leadership Forum.
Georgetown President John J. DeGioia also delivered remarks during yesterday’s evening panel and communitywide discussion.
“We come together today to do what our university does best, to engage the expertise of our faculty in conversation of issues of significance in our world,” he said yesterday during opening remarks. “The university provides us with a place [in] both setting and a context in which to do this work.”