December 1, 2014
As release of the Ferguson grand jury’s decision loomed last Monday night, students and faculty gathered at Drury’s Diversity Center to have a dialog about the issue that has torn apart the St. Louis suburb and captured the nation’s attention.
The event featured a panel of three speakers, but it was also a chance for students to ask questions, vent frustrations and talk about how communities – including Springfield – can work toward meaningful change when it comes to race, justice and equality.
It starts with honest dialog, most agreed. That’s not easy.
“We’re still not very good at talking about race,” said English professor Dr. Peter Meidlinger, who moderated, “but we need to get better at it.”
Panelist Dr. Katherine Gilbert, an assistant professor of English, agreed. Having these conversations is extremely difficult – but the only path to understanding.
“It’s worth it,” she said. “It’s worth taking that step
The fatal shooting of Michael Brown was tragic, but certainly not unique. That unfortunate fact is likely why this case has sparked such a backlash, said Assistant Professor of Art Greg Booker, who is African American. He specifically cited the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012.
“I think it was set up and ready to catch fire because of the Trayvon Martin situation,” he said.
Students such as Max Accardi, a political science and chemistry double major, pointedly questioned the use of military-grade vehicles and equipment by local law enforcement agencies before protests had even begun, suggesting they helped increase tensions rather than defuse them.
Panelist Ron Hartman said such equipment is justified in order to protect police officers, but conceded that the use is likely too widespread when even the smallest jurisdictions have access to it. Hartman is a retired major with the Springfield Police Department who has consulted for law enforcement across the world – including recently in Ferguson.
Booker said his greatest frustration was with the lack of known facts in the three months between the shooting and the grand jury decision.
“I think because we don’t have all the evidence people are pushing for this to go to trial so that we can know what happened,” he said, only minutes before the news that there would be no such trial.
Story by Mike Brothers, Drury’s director of media relations. A version of this story first appeared in the Springfield News-Leader.