By Dakota Damschroder
In light of the shooting of Michael Brown and ensuing national protests, Emerson College quickly responded by organizing two panels, titled “Hands Up: The Police, the Media, and the Shooting of Michael Brown” on September 17th.
“Although the events in Ferguson are still unfolding, we were starting to notice it was fading from social media and the press,” said Kelly Bates, Executive Director of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning and Research. “We wanted to capture the moment.”
The Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning and Research sponsored the panels, along with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs & GLBTQ Resources, the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, and the Department of Visual & Media Arts.
The first panel, “Why Ferguson? Political and Historical Dynamics of the Shooting,” welcomed Jabari Asim, Associate Professor in the WLP Department, Yasser Munif, Assistant Professor in the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, and Lori Beth Way, Professor and Senior Advisor for Undergraduate Education, as panelists. The conversation put the events in Ferguson into historical context, both in terms of factual text and media reporting.
“Control of the narrative has been a central issue since our ancestors arrived in chains,” stated Asim.
He noted how many news sources focused on the acts of violence being committed by a small number of protesters instead of getting to the heart and root of the narrative: the peaceful cry for justice.
The second panel, “Community, National, and Global Responses: The Role of Social and Traditional Media in Reporting and Shaping the Events,” included Michael Curry, President of Boston NAACP, Akilah Johnson, staff reporter for The Boston Globe, Joanna Marinova, Co-Director of Press Pass TV/Respect In Reporting Campaign, and Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, organizer and pastor at the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain. The panelists discussed the influence of the media over the stories told and, thus, the public perceptions of the situation.
“It wasn’t about us,” Johnson emphatically stated, referencing how many reporters focused on their own struggles with the police. She spoke of how the injustices committed against people on the ground became more important than why they happened. The panel also focused on the role of Twitter in providing firsthand accounts and connections that personalized the stories and gave them weight for the general public.
Though the original fervor has waned, the fight for justice is far from over, especially as the grand jury continues to delay the decision on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who fired the shots that killed Brown. Protests continue periodically in Ferguson and other locations, and will continue until justice is served.
To get involved locally in advocacy, citizen journalism, and civil rights efforts, check out the Boston NAACP, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, and Press Pass TV.