'Unpacking Ferguson' aims to build police, community relationships

September 18, 2014  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - As questions linger nationally over the police-action shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Purdue University officials are planning a series of events to encourage open, educational dialogue with the campus and community.

A series of forums and events titled "One Community: Unpacking Ferguson" will open with the public forum "Your Rights and Responsibilities - The Community and the Police: A Two-Way Conversation," from 4-6 p.m. Monday (Sept. 22) in Stewart Center's Fowler Hall. The event will feature a panel of law enforcement officials who will address questions from those in attendance with the intent of creating greater understanding between the police and the communities they serve.

"As we have looked at the images emanating from Ferguson, Missouri, clearly there are a number of very complex issues," said G. Christine Taylor, Purdue's vice provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer. "As a campus community we need to have greater understanding of those issues and their historical context. One of the key issues that has emerged is the contentious and violent relationship that has historically existed between the police and diverse communities, in this case specifically, the African-American community. In this One Community series we seek to unpack several of the issues related to Ferguson through education and dialogue. In the first program, our desired goal is to further open lines of communications between law enforcement and the community through an increased understanding of rights and responsibilities.  Through our preplanning, we have learned there is an opportunity to learn from each other."

Monday’s forum will feature a panel that includes representatives from the Purdue, West Lafayette and Lafayette police departments; Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Department; Indiana State Police; Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The event will feature topics such as what to do when stopped by the police, what constitutes a felony and types of felony charges, misdemeanors, Miranda Rights and more. Police officials will discuss "use of force continuum," which is not the same at every department. For instance, if an incident rises to a certain level, at what point would an officer resort to the use of a Taser or other method to subdue a person?

"I would like for students to leave with a basic understanding of what is expected of them and what their rights are, whether they are an international or domestic student," Purdue police Chief John Cox said. "This is important information for all of us to know, understand and appreciate."

Following the forum, local law officials, as well as the Purdue Student Legal Services office, will have tables set up outside Fowler Hall with resource information and to be available to talk one-on-one with individuals.

"'Unpacking Ferguson' will hopefully be a series that will provide awareness about some of the salient issues related to Ferguson," Taylor said. "For some, we hope it will ignite dialogue and for others provide a renewed commitment to seek positive change for our community. Most importantly, this series will provide an entry point for anyone concerned with social justice."

In addition to "Unpacking Ferguson," two "teach-in" events are scheduled. Part I is a theoretical discussion, while Part II is focused on taking action to exemplify Purdue's African-American studies program as a leader in academic excellence and social responsibility. The teach-ins are sponsored by Purdue's African-American Studies and Research Center and Diversikey.

* "Ferguson Teach-In" will be 4-6 p.m. Sept. 25 in Stewart Center, Room 218. Purdue professor of interdisciplinary studies Ronald Stephens and psychological sciences professor David Rollock will speak on the topic "Safety, Force and African-American Communities: Historical and Contemporary Patterns." English professor Marlo David and Casarae Gibson, graduate lecturer in the Afro-American Studies Center, will discuss media representations. Anthropology professor Suad Khabeer and sociology professor Jean Beaman's topic is "Beyond Ferguson: Global Connections for Racial and Ethnic Minorities."

* "Understanding Ferguson and What We Can Do" is set for 4-6 p.m. Oct. 30 in Stewart Center, Room 214.

Other events include:

* Oct. 29. 7 p.m., Fowler Hall. "Who owns the narrative?: Bias in media reporting." Led by Kenny Irby, senior faculty of visual journalism and diversity, and the director of community relations, The Poynter Media Institue.

* Nov. 4. Noon, Fowler Hall. "Freedom Summer" film screening. 

* Nov. 4. 7 p.m. An Evening with Julian Bond, Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture Series. Loeb Playhouse. sponsored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion.

* Nov. 13. 6:30 p.m., Fowler Hall. "If Not Us, Then, Who? Let's Rise!" Presented by Jessica Pettitt, a diversity educator and co-sponsored by the LGBTQ Center, Purdue 360, Purdue Greek Allies and LGBTQ Student Alliance. 

Writer: Jim Bush, 765-494-2077, jsbush@purdue.edu 

Sources: G. Christine Taylor, 765-494-6969, taylorgc@purdue.edu

John Cox, 765-494-8221, jkcox@purdue.edu

Venetria Patton, Director, African American Studies and Research Center, 765-494-2151, vpatton@purdue.edu

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