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Ferguson and the future of civil rights

By Ellie Schuckman

As part of the politics forum series sponsored by the College’s Political Science Department, students and faculty alike welcomed the first of six guest speakers to discuss issues concerning society and the choices others have to make a difference. 

Omar Wasow, a highly renowned Internet analyst and current assistant professor of politics at Princeton University, spoke on Tuesday, Sept. 16, in the College’s library auditorium about civil rights and the injustices many United States citizens encounter daily.

“The injustices we face are more diffuse,” said Wasow on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. “There’s not just one grand issue.”

His presentation, “Ferguson and the Future of Civil Rights,” focused on minority groups breaking the current mold and fighting for their beliefs.

“I was already interested in the topic (and how) it linked both domestic issues and international issues,” sophomore international studies major Carolina Charvet said. “As sensitive as racial issues are … I’m trying to be informed instead of making a rapid decision.”

After the recent shooting and protests that ensued last month in Ferguson, Mo., many wondered why Michael Brown — the black teen gunned down by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson — was stopped in the first place. According to Wasow, the police officers in Ferguson were given incentives to get more fines. But, could such have really led to the shooting of an unarmed man?

Wasow says Ferguson has several issues at hand, not just race. (Jordan Baum / Staff Photographer)
Wasow says Ferguson has several issues at hand, not just race. (Jordan Baum / Staff Photographer)

Wasow then compared the current battle of minority groups rising into positions of power with those in hegemonic positions.

“There’s a dominant group, and there are subordinate groups,” he said. “If we think about it, the dominate group is trying to hold on to its position in the hierarchy, and subordinate groups are trying to push for more of an egalitarian system. Then you can begin to see lots of other kinds of struggles fitting into that framework.”

Wasow also highlighted Public Enemy’s song, “911 Is a Joke,”stating how the song “captures an essential truth” — that police may respond differently to a call regarding a white person than they would someone of color.

According to Wasow, though race is most prevalent, what lies at the root of the problem may be the U.S. education system as a whole.

“The failure of public education at the K-12 level is abominable,” he said. “It’s a broken system.”

When students who are classified as “problems” begin school, they are often given to a newer teacher — one who cannot give them the best education but was selected because of his/her lack of seniority, explained Wasow.

“If you can stop (young) people from being charged with loitering … you can help keep them in school,” said Wasow, noting that arresting minors for petty crimes is the “quicksand of our criminal justice system.”

“In some ways, mass-incarceration is just as bad as the Jim Crow Laws,” he said.

Political science professor and chair of the political science department Brian Potter believes that Wasow’s main point is to fight not just racial injustice, but justice as a whole.

“Race is something that divides us, (and) his message is about creating global (unity),” Potter said.

Though hesitant on when serious change will be seen, Wasow remains optimistic.

“Progress is not inevitable,” he said.


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