The Department of Criminal Justice hosted a lecture by criminologist Hillary Potter, Ph.D., to discuss her research on cases surrounding last year’s shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on Feb. 25 in UTCC.
Potter was present during the Ferguson riots after Brown’s death and was even tear-gassed while marching the streets with Clergy United, a group of religious leaders seeking to demonstrate peace among violent protesters.
The shooting of the unarmed black teenager by a white police officer sparked controversy and media attention worldwide, causing even more distress for the city that is primarily African-American.
The incident was followed by uproar from locals as well as communities outside the U.S. In light of the nationwide tribulation, the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” movement was born, as some witnesses of Brown’s case claimed that they saw him surrender before being shot.
Potter examined the uprising brought about by Brown’s death by gathering research from local activists and being present in Ferguson during the discord.
Throughout the event, Potter discussed her research by using eyewitness accounts of the violent riots that were happening in Ferguson neighborhoods.
In addition to her data, Potter shared her firsthand experience of how the media played a major role in causing turmoil by sensationalizing the events. She said that the news would only film certain areas in Ferguson, which made it seem much worse than it was. As a result, viewers became angry, leading to more violent protesting.
Alongside these interviews, Potter emphasized the importance of not backing away from uncomfortable topics regarding law enforcement, but rather engaging in meaningful discussion that will help take action against the injustices existing in the criminal justice system.
Potter also shed light on how faith should not be taken out of the social justice system when dealing with these heavy issues. She explained that a person of strong Christian faith may believe that they should not get involved in controversial matters.
According to Potter, that is far from the truth.
“Looking at history, and even looking at the Ferguson [protests], there is a connection [of faith],” Potter said. “It really connects to what Christian learning is all about: humanity, reconciliation, coming together, accepting each other and not judging each other.”
She went on to explain that this connection of Christianity to social justice is “one and the same.”
The conversation of faith being interwoven with social justice compelled chair and associate professor of the Department of Criminal Justice Deshonna Collier-Goubil, Ph.D., to invite Potter to share her personal account of what happened in Ferguson.
“For my criminal justice students, this adds to the critical dialogue, and [these accounts] are just part of the regular conversations that we have within our department,” Collier-Goubil said.
She stated that this type of dialogue is crucial for molding undergraduate students into what they hope to achieve in their career paths.
“I wanted students to see that every time someone wants to have a discussion about [social issues], that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a personal attack,” Collier-Goubil said. “It means that we want to have a discussion about it. It’s the only way we’re going to be able to move forward.”
At the end of the lecture, students got a chance to share their reflections, concerns and questions with Potter through a Q&A session. More discussion arose on the relationship between law enforcement officers and African-American citizens.
Freshman criminal justice major Grace Morfin said that she was impacted by the lecture.
“Through [the] lecture, I received a different perspective on the Michael Brown case than what I had previously held, due to social media influence pertaining to only one point of view,” Morin said. “Regarding law enforcement, Dr. Potter informed us about how the officers dealt with the people during the riots in Ferguson and the violence that continues.”
Morfin said she is now more informed about why the people in Ferguson rioted and protested.
“They simply [wanted] justice for Michael Brown, as well as [for] the city,” she said.
Potter said that her goal was for students to begin visualizing the future of society and take action to create that future.
She stated that she hoped students would recognize that there is a problem in the way that some officers in law enforcement deal with altercations.
“Take whatever you think that actually happened [between Brown and the officer],” Potter suggested. “Regardless of what you think about that, we know that there’s a problem with race and acceptance.
“It’s okay that we’re all different,” Potter added. “We should appreciate that, and figure out a way that we can live among each other in a more peaceful way.”