Privilege, Discrimination and Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

Race & Racism
We Will Not Go Back March Protestors 2014
Thomas Altfather Good / CC BY-SA 2.5
Grade Level:
High School
Common Core Standards:
Reading, Speaking and Listening
Race & Racism

On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black teenager, was allegedly shot multiple times and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Following the shooting, hundreds of people gathered at the scene of the shooting to organize vigils to remember Michael Brown as well as protest to demand answers as to why he was shot. Over the course of the next several days, these protests, the majority of which were peaceful, were reportedly met with a heavily armed police department. The story has captured the attention of the nation and the media. It struck a chord with many people who perceive the situation as emblematic of a trend in which a disproportionate number of young unarmed black men have been killed by police officers and a general feeling that white and black people’s perceptions of and relationships with the police are very different.

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to reflect on the killing of Michael Brown through the lens of race, privilege and power. Students will learn more about unearned privilege, examine the various levels of racial disparities in the criminal justice system and explore the role white privilege plays in the different interactions whites and people of color have with community service providers, such as law enforcement.

(This is an advanced lesson.)

More from this Section