There is a Ferguson Effect, but it’s not what you think.
Many conservative commentators and some police officials are warning Americans about what FBI Director James Comey called “The Ferguson Effect.” This is the idea that increased police scrutiny and the demand for body cameras have and will continue to cause a rise in violent crime in certain cities—especially crimes against ‘good’ police officers who are just doing their duty. Acting chief of the Drug Enforcement Agency Chuck Rosenberg cosigned this theory by saying, “I think there’s something to it. Rightly or wrongly, you become the next viral video. Now you can do everything right and still end up on the evening news.” The White House and Justice Department disagrees. Issuing a statement recently, they stated:
“Mr. Rosenberg, as you pointed out, is the second administration official to make that kind of claim without any evidence. And the fact is the evidence does not support the claim that somehow our law enforcement officers all across the country are shirking their duties and failing to fulfill their responsibility to serve and protect the communities to which they’re assigned. So I guess you’d have to ask him exactly what point he’s trying to make. You might also ask him if there’s any evidence to substantiate the claim that he’s made.”
There is clear disagreement about the veracity of the Ferguson Effect as it relates to incidents of violent crime—especially since this claim is not born out by the evidence. Yet, I do think there is a Ferguson Effect…and it is affecting people of conscience across the country.
Many of the students participating in the #ConcernedStudents1950 movement made the 100 mile journey to Ferguson to engage in protests over the death of Mike Brown. For many, it was a transformative moment. Talking to the Associated Press, Reuben Faloughi, a third year doctoral student active with the movement, explicitly cited Ferguson as an important event for him. “That was the first time I got involved in activism. I never felt that unity before, that kind of energy. It was very empowering, and it planted the seeds that students can challenge things.” Mike Sickels, a 32-year-old doctoral student agrees. He said, “This is something I wish had been happening here my entire tenure. I think universities should be bastions for this.” Yes, there is a Ferguson effect. It’s the radical realization on the part of black millennials that they can force those in power to address their concerns.
America’s failure to understand that racism, sexism, and religious oppression are not unique to collegiate institutions, but, rather, are foundational to the American enterprise is why the structure of activism has begun to evolve. The evolution of activist efforts has a direct correlation to the polyvalent nature of the oppression they face. The Ferguson Effect is impacting college campuses across the nation. Activists have begun to mobilize their efforts from that of cordiality to direct action.
Institutionalized racism occurred on colleges and universities since their founding. These incidents are not unique to the University of Missouri, but, because of the Ferguson Effect, there are now ways to address and reform the oppression upon which these institutions are built. At the UCLA and Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, students demanded action after fraternity members and soccer players wore blackface. Students protested at the University of Mississippi after a noose was hung around a statue of James Meredith, the first black student admitted. Action on the part of the administration was demanded after racial epithets were published in the Wesleyan University school newspaper…and, seemingly daily, protests on college campuses take place.
At the University of Missouri, students and staff made efforts to communicate the institutional racism on campus, but the administration failed to address their mounting concerns. They did not have education on diversity and inclusion, and those in power did not listen to gentle pleas for equity. Through several attempts to spark conversation, activist for equality were often met with silence, racism, and continued oppression. Black millennial activists, like those at colleges across the nation, have learned that powerful actions are needed to bring attention to powerful systems of oppression. People of color and social justice advocates are often told to handle things diplomatically—that is, do not upset those in power. Yet, we can see with the incidents at Missouri, Yale, the University of Oklahoma, and colleges around the United States, that those approaches do not instigate change or action.
Conversely, when those same individuals begin to speak louder, take their efforts public, and share the logic and emotion behind their cause, attention and dialogue begin. While the duration of attention and dialogue have strong correlation with economic influence, none of it would have occurred with the “diplomatic, calm, and quiet” approaches activists are often asked or expected to take. The Ferguson Effect shows us that systems of power and people in power do not respond unless drastic actions are taken.
The Ferguson Effect, the act of taking a more direct action to fight injustice, has energized and informed the strategy of contemporary activism. More importantly, it has forced a response from those in power to social injustices. The Ferguson Effect continues to awaken the masses of Black Americans who have bought into the lie that the fight against racism is over and a position of adjustment to injustice is the way to survive. Ferguson awoke a sleeping giant, and, to quote Sam Cook, a change is gonna come.