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August 12, 2014

Anger and unrest in Missouri after police kill unarmed teenager

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A police officer shot and killed an unarmed teenage boy in Ferguson, Missouri this weekend, prompting racial tension and outrage across the country.

Witnesses say that Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old from a suburb of St. Louis, did not resist officers and put his hands over his head even as he was shot repeatedly.

This account conflicts with the St. Louis County police, who claim that a scuffle originally sparked the incident. “It is our understanding at this point in the investigation that within the police car there was a struggle over the officer’s weapon,” Jon Belmar, chief of police of St. Louis County, said.

Residents protested throughout the St. Louis area on Sunday, and at least one group turned violent, looting stores and vandalizing cars.

This event mirrors other recent incidents of violence against people of color by the police.

Last month, Eric Garner died in a chokehold by New York police, which medical examiners have ruled a homicide. A recent cellphone video shows a California Highway Patrol officer beating 51-year-old homeless woman Marlene Pinnock, who has said that she thought the officer would kill her. Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, died in Florida after watchdog George Zimmerman shot him in 2012.

These are only the latest and most publicized events in a long history, Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, said. “These incidents go back decades,” Ifill said.

Police reactions to the Africa-American community are disproportionately violent to the situation, Ifill said.

“The gun should be the last resort, and, too often, we see it as the first resort,” she said.

The FBI is reviewing the incident to determine whether any civil rights violations took place. “We want police officers to be accountable to the law, just as the citizenry should be as well,” Ifill said.


Warm up questions
  1. Where is Missouri?
  2. Who is Trayvon Martin?
Discussion questions
  1. When do you think it is appropriate for police to use force while arresting someone? When does it become inappropriate?
  2. Statistics show that the police detain, question and arrest people of color in higher numbers than white people. Why do you think this happens? Think about the history of race in the U.S. and how historical events could influence current attitudes.
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