On Aug. 9, white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed black 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Wilson allegedly acted in self-defense, though witness reports contain conflicting accounts of who was the aggressor. Since then, Ferguson residents have gathered in both peaceful and violent protest against the teenager’s killing and what residents call a long pattern of police harassment of the city’s African-American community. Police have responded by instituting curfews, arresting protestors and firing at crowds with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters. Media analysts have drawn parallels to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012. Do you see a trend of racial bias in law enforcement violence between these and other cases? If so, what can be done to end this trend?

Terrell Gilkey '15

The killing of Michael Brown is far bigger than one young black male being killed in one town. This reflects the inherent belief that all black men are potential criminals or are up to no good when walking down the street. I’m from the St. Louis metropolitan area and am well aware of the inherently unfair treatment of blacks by law enforcement. This is very typical of the area. The parallels made to the case of Trayvon Martin are a bit eerie: young black male shot and killed and then made out to be the bad guy. The protestors, who were mostly peaceful, are treated like animals and provoked by police officers. This is, however, left out in the media. This reinforces the idea that blacks are violent criminals and police have to shoot them before they pull out the weapon they’re never actually carrying when they’re shot down. In order to end this trend of unfair targeting of blacks, America needs change the way its minority citizens are seen in the eyes of the people who are sworn to protect and serve them.

Terrell Gilkey ’15 is a member of the Black Student Organization and Men of Color Alliance. He is from East St. Louis, Ill., about 12 miles from Ferguson. 

Malika Imhotep '15

This country was built on a trend of racial bias. From chattel slavery to black codes to de jure segregation and the War on Drugs, regulating black bodies has remained a core tenant of American social and economic legislature. On this soil black bodies never wear innocence. Institutional racism legitimizes a pervasive paranoia poorly dressed as “self-defense.”  The lives of Tarika Wilson, Aiyana Jones, Shereese Francis, Shantel Davis, Renisha McBride, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and all those whose names never broke headlines matter. Black lives matter. Ending this trend requires the proactive engagement with and interrogation of our history in the context of these racialized current events. I am calling on our campus community to open its eyes, ears and mouths to the work being done by groups like MOCA, WOCA, BBSO and the AAAS department to create substantive change in our campus and global cultures.

Malika Imhotep ’15 is a former president of the Brandeis Black Student Organization.

Noah Coolidge '16

Yes, of course there’s a trend, a trend that’s older than this country itself. The historical roots of this problem are very old, going back to the legally-sanctioned mass kidnapping, enslavement and torture of Africans, and of course, the institution of slavery. Since slavery ended, there have been many instances of racial police brutality that were eerily similar to this summer’s events in Ferguson, including notably the 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. During the Civil Rights Movement, Bull Connor authorized Birmingham, Ala. police to use fire hoses, attack dogs and even a tank to attack civil rights protestors. In Mississippi, where I studied civil rights and educational equity as part of a Justice Brandeis Semester this summer, we learned about the deep connection between Southern police departments and the Ku Klux Klan in attacking civil rights workers and anyone who attempted to change the segregated social order.

Noah Coolidge '16 is Vice President of Brandeis Democrats. 

Khadijah Lynch '16

The very essence of the United States relies on the social implications of race in which black bodies are deemed as sub-human with little to no access of the rights that are so called applicable to every American citizen. The American police forces of today descend from a legacy of slave captives and overseers whose job was to protect the property (enslaved black bodies) of rich, slave owning capitalists. We must understand that we are not that far removed from this country’s legacy of slavery and that most of our laws are shaped to uphold a system of white supremacy. The Mike Brown case is only a reflection, a repeat and a reminder that this nation rests on the brutality and criminalization of black people and other non-whites. Once we as a nation acknowledge and understand these parallels, only then can we heal collectively from the past. 

Khadijah Lynch ’16 is an Undergraduate Department Representative in the African and Afro-American Studies Department.