Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

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Ferguson Protests

At least two demonstrators were arrested outside the Ferguson Police Department this week as they sat in the street to protest police actions outlined in a Department of Justice report that found racial bias in the department.

The Center's Hackworth Fellow Justin Fitzsimmons has done a lot of thinking about the tactics of protesters in the months following the Michael Brown and Eric Garner shootings.  Fitzsimmons, an SCU senior, wrote this op-ed for the University's student newspaper, The Santa Clara:  

In the weeks after the non-indictment of the officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., protesters have adopted the tactic of clogging up roads, highways and intersections in an effort to do more than merely disrupt traffic.
Highways are an integral part of a functioning society. Our system of laws, housing and people are all interconnected by them. Yet, this same system has also made it difficult for minorities to gather wealth. It consistently funneled people of color into ghettos throughout the 20th century.
For decades, job discrimination crippled African Americans’ chances to attain work,  so they had to move into lower-income neighborhoods.
Even if a family scraped together enough money to move into a better area, they were blocked by housing covenants, in which white homeowners agreed not to sell their homes to minorities.
So they stayed in the ghettos. Then the War on Drugs started in the 1970s, and though whites and blacks use drugs in equal proportion, far more black citizens are arrested for drug use.
Why? Because police roam ghettos and not white suburbs. And with a felony arrest on their records, minorities often can’t vote or sit on juries, while struggling to get jobs and improve their situations.
This also increases crime rates in ghettos, so minorities are seen as more threatening than white people. Because they are seen as more dangerous, they are subject to increased police scrutiny and brutality.
So to protest the system that first places minorities in ghettos and then punishes them for being there, the protesters are disrupting it in order to bring about change. And after much inner and outer debate, I agree with them.
Some may argue, “Hey man, I’m stuck on the San Mateo bridge, and I just want to get home! This is inconvenient!”
Sorry pal, but the inconvenience of sitting in traffic pales in comparison to the inconvenience of being black or brown every day in America.
These inconveniences include the conversations minority parents must have with their children about how to deal with the police.
If you’re not white, interactions with authorities go beyond “smile, wave and do what they say.” They involve police stopping you often, and for no reason. Or grocery store clerks following you around the aisles because they think you’re going to steal something.
Others may rush to say, “Okay, I get that, and I’m sympathetic! But I’m just trying to get home. Couldn’t you do that somewhere else? How about in front of a government building?”
Again, sorry pal, but these protests are meant to be disruptive. They are meant to get in your face, so that we can confront the fact that racism still exists today — it’s just harder to see. Instead of it being a sign that says “No Blacks Allowed,” it’s attitudes and faces and beliefs that say the same thing. These “microaggressions” tell minorities that they are not wanted, that they do not belong in a nation they helped build.
Still some may contend, “I could get fired for being late!”
Sorry again, but that risk is better than not getting hired at all because an employer is often subtly inclined to see black people as less qualified or more dangerous. Also, if there is a huge disruption, this will be something an employer will likely understand. What could you have done otherwise?
Finally some may say, “Hey man, you can protest, but you can’t force me to listen!”
This protest is not just for you. Protesters aren’t mad at you, they’re mad at the system. As they should be. Protesters have had enough of “business as usual.” Minorities die in “business as usual.”
People have been pushed into corners and ignored, then told to wait as life moves on without them. Well, we will not wait, we will get in your face and we will disrupt the system.
Fitzsimmons and Center intern Tony Williams brought SCU students together for a panel discussion on protests, which aired a variety of viewpoints on the issue.  What do you think?
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