Monday, December 8, 2014

Teaching the “Black Lives Matter” Movement

In the past month two separate grand juries did not indict police officers involved in the shooting of Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri) and strangling of Eric Garner (Staten Island, New York). These are two of several high-profile cases involving White police officers using deadly (or near deadly) force on unarmed Black men, including Rodney King (L.A. Riots), Amadou Diallo, and Oscar Grant (whose family reached out to Michael Brown's family). Here in Massachusetts, our local news media has illuminated the police-related shootings of D. J. Henry (in Mount Pleasant, New York) and Eurie Stamps (in Framingham, Massachusetts). Recently, there were also the shootings of John Crawford III (who was carrying a BB gun he intended to purchase inside a Walmart) and Tamir Rice (a 12 year old who was shot while he played with a pellet gun on an Ohio playground). Furthermore, these events occurred only two years after Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager, was shot to death by self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman (see my previous post on teaching Trayvon Martin).

In reaction to these events, there is a widespread growing social movement that has labeled itself the “Black Lives Matter” movement. From Boston to San Francisco, New York to Los Angeles, groups of activists (many in their late teens and early 20s and from a diverse array of racial backgrounds) are uniting to raise concerns about the treatment of Black men by law enforcement and the society as a whole (including their portrayal in the media). At the national level, these groups are using social media platforms (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter) to organize mass demonstrations and spread counter-arguments to mainstream media. There have been mass demonstrations in Ferguson (Missouri), St. Louis, New York, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, here in Boston (as well as neighboring Cambridge and the predominately White suburbs of Lexington and Newton), and numerous other cities across the nation.

How should social studies teachers approach the teaching of these events? If you watch the 24-hour news networks, these events are being framed by the media in terms of "were the police justified in their actions?" and "are the protesters right to be upset?" Commentators are asking their guests, could the officers have avoided using deadly force? Some are even suggesting that the victims were responsible for their own deaths. However, this generally avoids discussing the larger issue. It reduces these events to individual actions and does not look at the larger system that perpetuates inequity and violence. Instead, teachers should be focusing on the historical and present-day factors that led to these incidences (police treatment in communities of color, income and opportunity gaps, and incarceration rates of Black males) and the growing movement to make social change around these issues. Social studies teachers should help students connect these events and determine their relationship with racism, as a system of advantage based on race, which leads to widespread social inequity.

Below are teacher resources and links to primary sources that teachers can use to teach the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

When teaching this movement, I would encourage teachers to use the following inquiry question: “What are the main factors that have led to the shooting deaths of several unarmed Black men over the past 5 years and what steps should society do to prevent this from continuing to happen in the future?” By framing the lesson as a moment to think about social change, we can hopefully increase critical conversations around race in the United States today.

Resources for Teachers:

Answering Ferguson in the Social Studies Classroom: A Perspective from St. Louis by Alex Cuenca

The Ferguson Syllabus

 by Beth Rubin

How to Teach Kids About What is Happening in Ferguson by Marcia Chatelain

Primary Sources:

"Black Lives Matter" Movement Social Media (consider taking screen shots as primary sources):

News Articles on Movement: 

Brief History of Police Violence Involving Unarmed Black Men: 

Brief History of Ferguson and Race:

Statistics on Indicting Police Officers:

Statistics on Incarceration:

Perceptions of Whites and Blacks on Racial Discrimination:

Statement by Michael Brown's Family on Grand Jury Decision:

Evidence from Grand Jury in the Michael Brown Case:

Press Conference by Prosecutor Robert McCullouch on Michael Brown Grand Jury Decision:

Statement by San Francisco Public Defender on Michael Brown Grand Jury Decision:

Reaction from Eric Garner's Family on Grand Jury Decision:

Statement on Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision by the Mayor of NYC Bill Blasio: 

Statement on Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision by Attorney General Eric Holder:

Statement on Eric Garner Grand Jury Decision by NY Patrolmen's Benevolent Association:

U.S. Department of Justice Report on Ferguson (MO) Police Department:

"Hands Up, Don't Shoot" Was Built on a Lie by Jonathon Capehart