Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Ferguson: Footnote or Transformative Event?

Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Ferguson: Footnote or Transformative Event?

Article excerpt

   Hands to the Heavens, no man, no weapon    Formed against, yes glory is destined    Every day women and men become legends    Sins that go against our skin become blessings    The movement is a rhythm to us    Freedom is like religion to us    Justice is juxtaposition in us    Justice for all just ain't specific enough    One son died, his spirit is revisitin' us    Truant livin' livin' in us, resistance is us    That's why Rosa sat on the bus    That's why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up    When it go down we woman and man up    They say, "Stay down" and we stand up    Shots, we on the ground, the camera panned up    King pointed to the mountain top and we ran up (1) 


"Ferguson." No longer does this name simply represent the geographical boundaries of a city in St. Louis County formed initially by white flight from St. Louis City (2) and that has become increasingly African American over time. It has come to represent so much more.

For some, it symbolizes another U.S. jurisdiction in which an unarmed African American, (3) more often than not young and male, (4) but not exclusively, (5) was killed by a police officer. For some, it has come to symbolize the repression of peaceful protests that seek to call attention to the loss of African-American life at the hands of police officers. (6) For some, it has come to represent a criminal justice system that is flawed in the manner in which it pursues justice for African-American victims that are killed or harmed by police officers. (7) For some, it symbolizes the lack of consistency in the office of the prosecuting attorney by failing to recommend charges to the grand jury, (8) and by providing an overwhelming amount of evidence through which the grand jury had to sift through to determine whether the probable cause standard had been satisfied. (9) For some, it represents the poor planning of local officials who elected to announce the no bill on an indictment at night without regard for the potential result of violence, even though citizens had asked that the decision be made during the day. (10) For some, it sparked discussions about the militarization of local law enforcement agencies (11) and about economic policing. (12) From the events in Ferguson, a new language of protest and resistance was born. The events gave voice to a new generation of protesters under the banner of slogans and hashtags such as "Hands Up! Don't Shoot!" (13) and "#Black Lives Matter." (14) Ferguson has become a part of the cultural and popular lexicon referenced in popular song. (15) And yet, the reactions of "some" are but one perspective when Ferguson is mentioned. For others, there is a different and altogether contrary response.

For others, Ferguson represents a rush to judgment to convict a police officer who reasonably feared for his life. (16) For others, it was a situation where the use of force by the police officer was not excessive but was justi- fied because of the perceived threat to his safety. (17) For others, it symbolizes the lawlessness of looters who violated the rule of law, engaging in conduct that endangered lives and resulted in the destruction of property. (18) For others, it indicates misplaced sympathy and empathy for an alleged criminal who attacked a police officer. (19) For others, it represents the danger that law enforcement faces when trying to respect the rights of protesters and remain safe in an unsettling and dangerous combination of events. (20) And still, for others, it has been invoked to distinguish events in other jurisdictions from the actual shooting itself to the response of law enforcement and local authorities to such events. Because Ferguson represents so much more than a geographical location on a map, it was selected as the topic of the 2015 Missouri Law Review Symposium, "Policing, Protesting and Perceptions: A Critical Examination of the Events in Ferguson."

The purpose and goal of the Symposium was to continue the dialogue of the many issues that surfaced with respect to Ferguson and to take a critical look at the aftermath of the tragic event and the civil unrest that followed. …

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