Suggestions for Supplementing the Ferguson Syllabus

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For the last few years, I have taught a course on Social Forces and Policing Society. The catalog description of the course reads as follows:

Examines the history and evolution of policing in the United States with an emphasis on the political, social, cultural, legal and organizational forces that have molded that history. The roles and functions of police in America are examined in detail within the context of race, class and gender.

We begin by examining Kelling and Moore’s (1988) monograph on The Evolving Strategy of Policing and the subsequent critique by Williams and Murphy (1990) The Evolving Strategy of Policing: A Minority View. Students are often shocked to learn of the police role in the history of race relations and conflict in the United States generally and more specifically the roles played by social forces such as slavery, segregation and discrimination in the evolution and development of American policing. This introduction to the class was made considerably more relevant this semester in the aftermath of Officer Darren Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th. Connecting the past to the present seems to be much simpler this semester due to this tragic teachable moment.


Over 1,500 sociologists have signed a public statement on Ferguson by Sociologists for Justice and many more have supplemented their Ferguson Syllabus using the #FergusonSyllabus tag on Twitter. Uprooting Criminology has so far published two blogs on the topic by Drs. Danielle McDonald and Kishonna Gray and Dr. Victor Kappeler’s earlier post on policing political upheaval seems pertinent as well.

Earlier, this author described how John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” clip on prisons in America could be a spoonful of sugar to help aid in the delivery of the bitter pill that is the US correctional system, and the Daily Show alum has recently chimed in on the militarized response to protests in Ferguson. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have likewise offered their own perspectives on the media coverage of the event and the differential treatment of protesters from Ferguson compared to those in Nevada earlier this year, respectively. Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper appeared on the Colbert Report to discuss militarization as well.

Certainly the academic analyses and the empirical evidence provide a fine foundation for building a strong semester of Social Forces and Policing Society in the current context. But, I think that it is also important to supplement these sources with others, artistic, activist and so on. Often, I have more success eliciting discussion using these supplements to the more academic fare. Perhaps in the comments below we can share suggestions of such additional material?

I’ll start:


Carl Root

School of Justice Studies

Eastern Kentucky University


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