On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black teenager who was about to start college, 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. As tensions escalated, reports of police using tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters, as well as protests becoming violent, emerged. Missouri’s Governor stepped in and replaced local police with the state highway patrol. The Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the case and will perform their own autopsy. On August 15—almost a full week after Michael Brown was shot—the police department released the name of the officer who allegedly shot him.
The story 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. The story continues to make front page headlines because of the way the police department in Ferguson and St. Louis have handled various aspects of the case and its aftermath, as well as the ongoing clashes between police and protestors. Michael Brown’s death and the circumstances around it raise issues of race, inequality, bias, power, police relations with the communities they serve, activism and social and economic justice.
This lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn more about the situation in Ferguson, grapple with their thoughts and feelings about the case, analyze the militarization of the police and reflect on activism in order to effect change.