The shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9 has sparked a spate of violence in the St. Louis suburb. We asked Gordana Rabrenovic, an associate professor of sociology and the director of Northeastern’s Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict, to explain how protestors and law enforcement officials could work together to quell the unrest.
In order to rebuild trust between the community and the police, the political leaders, the community members, and the representatives of the local government need to critically examine the excessive use of force by police in Ferguson. They need to look at formal police procedures and the actual outcomes of encounters in the community. In addition, the more general question of how to better monitor police use of force in the community must be addressed. A key step for development of better relations and trust between the police and community is to make the police decision-making process transparent to the community. Over the longer term, Ferguson needs to address the racial and ethnic makeup of the police force, and the community must be informed and included in this process.
Law enforcement authorities need to work with the community to find the solution to current situation. City officials, community leaders, the police department, and respected leaders from outside Ferguson must come together and demand that a full and transparent review of the incident is conducted. Equally important, however, respected leaders also need to call for and establish a review committee chartered to examine the causes of the incident and ongoing issues with policing in Ferguson. The committee should be empowered to make recommendations on solutions on these problems and monitor their implementation.
The specifics of why a given situation sparks visceral anger when other similar instances do not are often difficult to assess. However, it is probably the case that the incident in Ferguson appeared particularly unfair to the community and also tapped into ongoing and growing feelings of unjust or unfair treatment by at least some police officers in Ferguson. The failure of the police department to communicate with the community also aggravated the situation and further increased community anger.
- By Jason Kornwitz