Race has been a topic of discussion since the civil rights movement and as of recently, discrimination and police brutality have been in direct correlation of each other.
Incidents like Eric Garner with the NYPD, Christopher Lollie with St. Paul Police Department, Luis Rodriguez with Oklahoma police and now, the incident that has been making national attention for over month now, the deadly shooting of 18 year-old Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri.
On Thursday, St. Cloud State University held a Q and A seminar regarding the incident and racial issues on campus, in the St. Cloud area and around the nation.
At the seminar a diverse crowd was in attendance all the way outside the door. People from all walks of life engaged in the conversation that went over the allotted time it was scheduled for.
“The purpose of the panel was to have a beginning dialogue for a conversation around race and particularly around policing, perhaps even broader the criminal justice system in more general terms,” Marie Clifford, the head of the department chair of criminal justice and C.A.R.E. (Community Anti Racism Education) said.
One of the members of the panel was Professor Lucas Tripp.
“Our message is this: We live in a society that’s controlled by a wealthy capitalist class and what you have is an increasing economic inequality and you have a large population of poor people who are viewed as expendable and these poor people have to be controlled then the ruling elite is expanding a control system in the former prisons and they are going to target the ones they consider the most dangerous and the population that is considered the most dangerous at this point are young black males so all of this is part in parcel of programming as are part in parse a design, and then plus to deal with stability and now we can even capitalize on it by privatizing prison (making a profit off of them), most societies need escape goats and demons and we’re the ones, ” Tripp said.
Many people can agree with Tripp. A majority of the audience that was engaging in the conversation were arguing those points at a lighter level, pointing out social injustices that they have noticed with St. Cloud police. For instance, one woman in the crowd told a story of a friend of hers that was harassed by St. Cloud police even though everyone watching the incident repeatedly said that he had done nothing wrong. The woman was unavailable for comment on the incident.
“The purpose was to start the conversation and spread the conversation,” Ben Bourgoin, a junior German and Philosophy major, as well as a panelist at the event, said.
“This is something that isn’t covered in text books, its not covered in mainstream news, it isn’t covered generally on a day to day basis conversations so what we are doing is brining this to an educational community and trying to light a fire that will turn into a wildfire, it takes conversation to make social change and that’s what we want to do. Long term goal is to make social change and that’s the whole point we ever do any of this, but it’s got to start with a conversation,” Bougoin said.
For the conversation to be effective, both sides truly need to be involved and become aware of the problem. That is a big reason why Marie Clifford was on the panel and Mitchell Weinzetl, a professor of criminal justice and a man who has worked in multiple different police departments was also in attendance engaging in the conversation.
“I think the bottom line is that law enforcement is being held to a high standard and I think that’s reasonable and I think we should do that, but we need to further that discussion in terms of how we build and rebuild trust in communities particularly in Ferguson is good example of were trust has been lost between the public and the police and so we need to open up that discussion of how we build that [trust] and how do we maintain that and that really transcends Ferguson as a universal issue facing policing across our country,” Weinzetl said.
With the protests of Ferguson going down in the books, it raises a question for every community around the nation. Do we really trust our local police departments?
“Minnesota has the highest standards in the nation for education and hiring standards and I think generally speaking our police officers and our police organizations are, they do better then a lot of other places, I cant speak directly to St. Cloud but what I would say is that Minnesota law enforcement in general has worked very hard to build those relationships and to continue to build trust among the community in a variety of ways. I am aware and I’ve had some conversations with Chief Anderson here and I know that those are issues that are very critical and very important to him, so it is my suspicion that they are doing things correctly despite some peoples interactions that may have been negative, generally speaking I think they are probably doing things the way they ought to be,” Weinzetl said.
Weinzetl started his career in law enforcement in 1988, since his the start of his career, he was a police chief in three different communities and throughout his career he claims that he had never come across police officer that have conducted any sort of discriminating practice though he did not deny the fact that it does happen.
Either way it is evident that it is a problem across the nation and people are starting to speak up. The conversation has started and the push for social change is starting to move.
“I did not believe the amount of people that where here, so that was great, just the amount of people that were listening and we had to even cut off the conversation because we were going to long so that’s a sign that there is healthy thought about it and response to it, and there were some great questions asked from a different variety of directions and so you know that’s the sign of a healthy and it was successful,” Bourgoin said.