CHARLIE LOWE/THE HOYA Jamelle Bouie of Slate, Brandon Anderson (COL ’15), Deloris Wilson (LAW ’16), Katrina Gamble of the Leadership Center for the Common Good, Jiva Manske of Amnesty International and Black Student Alliance members.
Jamelle Bouie of Slate, Brandon Anderson (COL ’15), Deloris Wilson (LAW ’16), Katrina Gamble of the Leadership Center for the Common Good, Jiva Manske of Amnesty International and Black Student Alliance members.

Continuing campus dialogue about recent police brutality and protests in Ferguson, Mo., faculty and students discussed race and the law on a panel in Copley Formal Lounge on Wednesday.

The panel was part of the larger event “Ferguson Teach-In,” which included a dinner and roundtable discussions between faculty and students, performances and video presentations from students, and a conversation on what is next in Ferguson, where tensions boiled over after a police officer shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August.

Wednesday’s events followed a previous panel discussion between professors and a student-led vigil for Ferguson that took place in late August, slightly over two weeks after Brown was shot.

The panel in Copley Formal Lounge, called “Voices on the Ground,” featured Jamelle Bouie, a staff writer for Slate Magazine, Deloris Wilson (LAW ’16) of the Georgetown University Black Law Students Association, Director of Civic Engagement and Politics for the Center for Popular Democracy Katrina Gamble, Jiva Manske of Amnesty International and sociology major Brandon Anderson (COL ’14).

The panelists shared their stories and experiences with racism in America. Gamble described how people of color are sometimes pulled over by police offers more often and given tickets, perpetuating the cycle of poverty as lower-income individuals struggle to afford to pay the fine. If an individual is pulled over again without paying previous tickets, he or she will be prosecuted.

“You’re criminalized. You’re put in jail for basically being black and poor. The bench warrant system in that area is a really good example of intersections of both the economic oppression and the racial oppression and its interaction with the law, how it suppressed those communities,” Gamble said. “It is very much a modern day debtor’s prison for people of color.”

The panelists were unanimous in their critique of police brutality and racial profiling, a problem seen not only in Ferguson but also throughout the country.

“We have created a system where if you are black or brown, if you are low income, you essentially no longer have Fourth Amendment rights. You are subject to the police force, essentially at every stage of your life, and that’s a problem,” Bouie said.

Wilson pointed at the problems within the Fourth Amendment, which states that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

She noted that the words “unreasonable” and “probable cause” gave police officers room to exercise subjectivity in their decision, which she believes to be a flaw in the amendment and indicative of the failure in the field of law to protect citizens’ rights. After reading old cases in her law school class, Wilson said she has become somewhat disillusioned by the law.

“You’re in a class of 120 people, and probably 117 of them really believe in a law and look up to the law, and see the law as their saving grace and the foundation of all that is right and true in the world,” Wilson said. “But those, mainly for the few individuals that are black … the law is not necessarily the saving grace for me, because I have seen the law fail me on multiple occasions.”

Manske, who travelled to Ferguson when the riots broke out, said that the images of violence played on the news were not what he witnessed while on the ground.

“All I saw was non-violent protest,” he said.

He pointed to the power of the police to instigate violence at their disposal.

“I didn’t see anything that was instigated by the protesters, and I think that that’s something that’s important to recognize because police officers have an obligation to police protests and a whip to facilitate protests,” Manske said.

He described how the scrutiny of the victim Michael Brown reveals a deep flaw in American society.

“The fact that Mike Brown has to prove his worth in being a victim of a shooting, that’s indicative of that broader structural racism in the society that we live in,” Manske said.

Hannah Gerdes (SFS ’16), who attended the event, commended how it offered further opportunities for students to get involved, such as the BLSA’s goal to hold “500 Meetings for Justice.” Aiming to promote conversations about race and police brutality, the BLSA has launched a twitter hashtag, called #roadto500, encouraging members of the community to ask for 500 meetings on these issues.

“With the reputation of these kinds of events in our country, it’s really frustrating to sometimes feel like no one’s listening to each other, we’re not getting anywhere,” Gerdes said. “So even just small steps that they gave — the panelists gave — are very encouraging and I think hopefully it’s something multiple people can get on board with.”

After the panel, Wilson said that she thought the event was a success. At the beginning of the four-hour event Copley Formal Lounge was packed, but by the last hour the crowd had dwindled to about 15 people by the last hour.

“I hope to see more of these, and I think with the Black Law Students Association and Georgetown Law, our Road to 500 initiative, will definitely help propel people to host events like this, so we can see more in the future,” Wilson said.

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