By ERIC KUERTZ
An Eastern professor took some of her students to Ferguson, Mo. last month to study the protest and unrest in the community after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager there.
Eastern professor Kishonna Gray and criminal justice students were invited by one of Gray’s colleagues to conduct research and interview the people. Gray said most researchers usually just collect data and then leave and never inform the communities of what they found in their research.
“Since most of us are criminologist and sociologist we wanted to do something different,” Gray said.
Gray said her team tried to be as in-depth as possible, interviewing more than 30 residents. She said she didn’t want her group to come across as taking advantage of the residents.
“We didn’t want to exploit these folks, we went in into it as activist first, scholars second,” Gray said.
“We went in and asked them what we could do to help out,” Gray said. “Could we march? Contact police and prosecutors to find out more information? Anything we could do to make sure this does not happen again in the community, we wanted to go in and make sense of Ferguson in an academic way but still privilege the experiences of the people there in the area.”
One of the students who traveled to Ferguson and help do research was Priscilla Norfleet, a criminal justice major from Radcliff.
They set up a table at an event at the St. Louis Community College and interviewed people in the community, activists and students who were willing to talk.
They asked the residents of the community about their opinions of Ferguson Police Department before and after Brown’s death and also looked to measure the scope of the community’s involvement in activism, finding that many had never been involved in any sort of protest movement, Gray said.
“Many residents there are what I like to call ‘accidental activists,’ because they wouldn’t have been engaged in this level [of activism and protests] if this body wasn’t placed in their street,” Gray said.
What they learned the most however, was how the community of Ferguson is fighting for a change.
“I learned the power of pain mostly,” Gray said. “These people are sacrificing everything for a change. Something they thought they had when slaves were freed, or with the voting rights act, or anything else progressive. Equal rights and equal protection. They are still fighting for basic dignity.”
The group also went to protest on National Police Brutality Day, an event that took place across the country. Norfleet said that experience was eye-opening, especially being in that environment.
One of the most memorable experiences was going to see Brown’s memorial, Norfleet said.
“We got to see the memorial of where Michael Brown’s body laid for four hours,” Norfleet said. “To see it in a neighborhood was surreal, it was in an apartment complex… in people’s backyards.”
To this day, people are waiting for the indictment. One of the main reasons the citizens are protesting is because they don’t think justice has been served; the police officer has not been arrested.
The nation, along with Ferguson is waiting for the decision of the grand jury, but Gray doesn’t think a prosecution will happen.
“I am friends with some of these folks and they are saying they’re not going to indict,” said Gray.
Gray said the local media has not been objective while reporting on the events of, and following, the incident. Norfleet said she experienced that first hand.
Norfleet said while she was participating in a protest, CNN reported that a protester assaulted a police officer. But she said nothing of the sort happened during the protest, and at the most blocked traffic while crossing the street to a different location.
“You can’t believe everything on the internet,” Norfleet said.
From her research, Norfleet concluded that the state of Ferguson is going to get worse.
“People need to see unity for a bigger cause because this is something that is destroying the people of Ferguson.”
The group is working analyzing the date they collected on their trip.
“We are still in data collection phase the team of researchers we have we are taking terms supporting the protesters and their efforts several of us are there now awaiting the decision indictment that is but this is a long phase project where our ultimate goal is for a change in policy and practice of police community relations” Gray said.