Panel discusses police situation, Ferguson

The Spectator
Detained journalists a subject

By Emma Geiring
Staff Editor/Spectator

Paying homage to Constitution Day, students gathered on Sept. 18 to listen to five of Edinboro’s professors weigh in on the increasing militarization of the United States police force.

Dr. Rhonda Matthews moderated the discourse. Dr. Joseph Conti, Dr. James Fischer, Dr. Umeme Sababu and Dr. R. James Wertz served as panelists in a twohour discussion on the cause of recent political outrage over the excessive use of force recently inflicted by the people we’ve been advised to trust since childhood, the police.

Each professor was allotted a 10 to 15 minute space to speak freely on a topic within his or her discipline. Questions were to be saved until all panelists had concluded their assertions. 

A large portion of the discussion was focused on the events of Ferguson, Missouri, on the tragic day of Aug. 9, 2014. Most people recognized a monumental shift in public opinion of the police after the events of Ferguson occurred, and the panel worked together to ensure that students were aware of the cultural implications. 

Sababu, professor in the department of history, anthropology and world languages, began the discussion by addressing what he called “Black Images in the White Mind,” the basis of which showed the students how preconceived notions of how race factors into criminality is severely skewed. Sababu spoke of his belief that African American culture is stigmatized, as well as generalized by explaining that the only references that surface in the American mainstream are remnants of music, sports and dance.

Sababu suggested that, as a culture, we have been “subjected to historical images,” that have sculpted our existing conceptions of the African American race as a society.

He furthered this assertion of the African American race being marginalized by saying that, “In educational institutions there is a void of violence awareness.” 

Behind the podium, Sababu proposed that the progress in the election of President Barack Obama is “a fleeting illusion” in the overall struggle of equality in America.

He closed his argument by stating the names of countless African Americans who lost their lives, or were injured at the hands of police using reported excessive force with no justifiable reason.

Fisher, professor of the department of political science and criminal justice, was the next to speak. He proposed a meaningful assessment of the necessity of police forces such as S.W.A.T.

Statistically speaking, Fisher said that nearly 10 percent of the residences raided by S.W.A.T are not the actual residences targeted. In the past year alone, 1,200 individuals have been shot by S.W.A.T officers, and a wrongful 670 have been fatally wounded. He continued by explaining how innocent children, pets and loved ones are often victims in these senseless killings that are undisclosed to the public.

“There is no national figure on innocent deaths in raids,” said Fisher, peering into the crowd, “that’s out of place in a democratic society.”

Fisher then explained how the abundance of S.W.A.T teams is disconcerting, considering that in 1985, roughly 3,000 teams existed. Now there are an astonishing 50,000. Fisher said that this is a result of “political fear-mongering.” Keep in mind this is all taking place in an era where the rate of violent crime is decreasing.

Conti, (Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice), finished with an assessment of what he called “dissemination of the police state.” Conti focused primarily on the liability of officers, as well as suspects, where there is law involved.

In his brief lecture, Conti asserted that Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 holds municipalities accountable for excessive use of force on behalf of the officers it employs. In essence, Conti maintained the belief that municipalities must train officers in good judgment, which would focus on when or where it is appropriate to use weapons or equipment.

“Was Officer Wilson (Michael Brown’s assailant) effectively trained? Did the police provoke or escalate tension in Ferguson?” The answers seemed clear, and the audience all seemed to wish for vindication of Michael Brown. Ferguson was “a wake-up call for America,” Conti professed as he gave the microphone up to the next speaker.

Wertz, professor of communication studies, was the last to speak. His discussion presented the perspective of what the journalist’s responsibility is as an agent of bringing the truth to viewers and listeners miles away. Wertz explained how many journalists were detained by police, specifically in the Ferguson riots.

“It was a top-down effort to restrict first amendment rights,” he stated unequivocally.

“Ferguson was an international ordeal,” Wertz continued, “reporters from Germany were appalled by their treatment by the Ferguson officers.” Indeed, many nations followed the surreal events of Ferguson with incredulous eyes.

“Mainstream reporters were detained,” said Wertz. Wesley Lowery, and Ryan J. Reilly of “The Washington Post” and “The Huffington Post,” respectively were arrested by the police, and allegedly slammed into soda machines. “Police think they have the precedent to control the flow of information,” Wertz stated.

Emma Geiring is the staff editor for The Spectator. She can be reached by