Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Crisis Management: An Assessment of College and University Executive Communications Prior to the Darren Wilson Grand Jury Decision

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Crisis Management: An Assessment of College and University Executive Communications Prior to the Darren Wilson Grand Jury Decision

Article excerpt

In a recent article, Dr. Fred Pestello, President of Saint Louis University, noted that "... in the urgency and pressures of an active crisis, we sometimes close our eyes ... [and] ... automatically go into response mode, moving swiftly to take authoritative actions to neutralize or resolve the all-consuming crisis" (Pestello, 2015). One particular role that every college and university executive will encounter to some degree, is that of a crisis manager. Whether reacting to internal conflict within the institution, or external conflict within the surrounding community, modern executives must guide their institutions wholeheartedly through the process of preparing for, reacting to, and resolving crises.

In the greater St. Louis region, college and university executives were faced with the task of crisis management in the wake of the events that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, in August of 2014 when Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson Police Department. The anticipated release of the grand jury's decision of whether or not to indict Officer Wilson elicited months of civil unrest, triggered state and federal military reinforcements and investigations, and spurred the national media such that it ran continuous coverage with what seemed like a never-ending news cycle. In academia, attention turned toward local college and university executives to observe how they would respond to the unfolding events and the messages they would communicate both toward, and on behalf of their respective institutions. It is the intent of this article to review several of the messages which were sent to various college and university communities by university executive officers. To begin this evaluation it is necessary to have a basic understanding about the events that transpired in the weeks prior to the grand jury decision.

Ferguson Timeline

It is not the intent of this paper to give an official account of the timeline of occurrences which manifested subsequent to the Michael Brown shooting. However, the United States Department of Justice report gives a comprehensive timeline for further investigation, which is presented below as a means of giving the reader a general linear understanding of the series of events that took place. (USDOJ, 2015).

* Aug. 9--Michael Brown is shot by Officer Darren Wilson and subsequently dies from the injuries.

* Aug. 10--Protestors gather in Ferguson, MO. Local businesses are damaged in the Ferguson, MO area. Thirty-two people are arrested and two officers are injured.

* Aug. 11--Police respond to protester unrest wearing riot gear and implement tactical responses including the use of tear gas as a means to disperse and control demonstrators.

* Aug. 12--President Barack Obama encourages peace and reflection upon the incident and promises an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

* Aug. 13--Police continue to respond to protesters in Ferguson, MO and implement tactical responses in clashes with protesters.

* Aug. 14--Missouri Governor Jay Nixon charges Captain Ron Johnson and the Missouri Highway Patrol with security of the Ferguson, MO area.

* Aug. 15--Officer Darren Wilson is identified as the officer who shot Michael Brown.

* Aug. 16--Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declares a state of emergency and implements a curfew in Ferguson, MO.

* Aug. 17--U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder orders a Justice Department autopsy on Michael Brown. Police continue to implement tactical responses in clashes with protesters.

* Aug. 18--Missouri Governor Jay Nixon lifts the curfew and deploys the National Guard to Ferguson. A private autopsy report from the Brown family is released to the public.

* Aug. 20--The grand jury begins hearing evidence in the indictment case against Officer Darren Wilson.

* Aug. 21-22--The National Guard gradually begins to withdraw. …

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