Panelists look beyond Ferguson, headlines for deeper discussion

After the acquittals of two white police officers by grand juries following the deaths of unarmed black men, protests across the country have erupted.

One proposal to help curb police brutality in the U.S. is to hire a police force that better reflects the communities they police.

“If you’re afraid of 42 million people, choose a different profession,” Jeannette Jones, associate professor of history and ethnic studies told a packed auditorium of about 200 people.

Jones was speaking at an event called “Ferguson and Beyond: Race and Police Killings, Revisiting Questions of Inclusion, Trust, and Legitimacy in American Democracy.” It was sponsored by Department of Political Science and the African American Leadership Caucus.

Following the turmoil, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor organized a group discussion to examine the issue in what he hoped would be a broader and more in-depth manner than what has been often transmitted on the evening news.

“Those events pushed me to ask this university and our students to take part in an opportunity to discuss an issue that seems to be so important for the nation and for our university community,” Michael Combs said in a news release.

“I am hoping that we can move away from how the media has presented the issue and that we can have a more in-depth discussion,” he said. “Not to just use headlines and sound bites but to place the whole issue of race and police killings in a broader context of history, psychology, political science, and … sociology.”

Patrick Jones, associate professor of history and ethnic studies, began the event with a speech stressing the importance of knowing history – particularly recognizing and appreciating the disparaging history of blacks in the U.S.

“We were dumped into a history we didn’t make,” Patrick Jones later said during a question and answer. But, he added, ignorance of history is no excuse to dismiss the way things are.

And the status quo has repeatedly favored police over victims. For example, of the 79 killings by the New York Police Department, only 3 officers were indicted, according to one panelist.

In addition, Jones said post-9/11 law enforcement – the Patriot Act – has made citizens “more accepting of civil rights infringements.”

“We should pay to protect and serve,” Jeanette Jones said. “Not surveil”

Asked about how the media often cover black-on-black crime, Patrick Jones said, “it’s meant to deflect the issue.”

“What about white-on-white crime?” he asked. Police didn’t use deadly force after the Aurora, Colorado movie theater mass shooting.

The panelists agreed the bar for police entry should be raised using “community oversight of policing and multi-racial coalition of citizens.”

Social media reacts to incidents, protests

Social media has been particularly active after grand juries declined to indict two white police officers in the deaths of two black men. A sampling:

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