The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and following local and nationwide protests can be discussed as a kind of the social disaster that is associated with the problem of racism in the American society. It is important to discuss the turmoil in Ferguson from many perspectives in order to explain what questions arise with references to the shooting and a series of nationwide protests. The reaction of the public to the event in Ferguson supports the idea that there is an unresolved problem and a menace of the social division in the American society because of the expressed violence and protests. Furthermore, the problem is too complex to be discussed from only one perspective of policemen’s brutality, racism in the streets, or the turmoil.
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The events in Ferguson caused the wave of the social protests and demonstrations, provoked public’s fears, and affected active discussions of the issue in the society; as a result, these events can be referred to as a social disaster that was widely responded to in the country. Hoffman and Oliver-Smith note that an idea of a disaster is associated with the “pattern of ‘vulnerability’” that can be evidenced in “the location, infrastructure, sociopolitical organization, production and distribution systems, and ideology of a society” (Hoffman and Oliver-Smith 3). Furthermore, a pattern of vulnerability is a core to determine a disaster, and it conditions “the behavior of individuals and organizations throughout the full unfolding of a disaster far more profoundly than will the physical force of the destructive agent” (Hoffman and Oliver-Smith 3). While discussing the events in Ferguson as a social disaster, it is possible to state that it has demonstrated the ‘vulnerability’ of the African Americans and accentuated the question of human rights.
The Whitehouse reacted to the turmoil in Ferguson with a set of policies, and Eric Holder accentuated the role of trust while stating that “Events in Ferguson have revealed a deep distrust between a community and its police force” (Holder par. 3). The factor of trust is important while discussing the nature of a crisis and reactions to it (Bennett 4). In this case, the factor of trust is as important as fright factors that attract the public’s attention. The shooting in Ferguson can be discussed according to Bennett as associated with the death, as the situation when the victim is identifiable, and as the man-made risk (Bennett 6). From this point, the reaction of the public realized in protests seems to be reasonable because the risk of violating the African Americans’ rights became closely connected with the issue of policemen’s brutality.
In order to understand whether the turmoil in Ferguson indicates the presence of the real menace for the Americans, it is necessary to discuss the ways of presenting it in the media.
In his article, Gallagher, the reporter of St. Louis Today, discusses the consequences of riots in Ferguson in the context of the created image associated with Ferguson. Gallagher notes that the real turmoil and destruction were not as massive and dramatic as it was presented in the media. However, “images of angry protesters, looters, riot police, soldiers, burning buildings and police cars in flames hit front pages and led newscasts around the world” (Gallagher par. 6). That was a step toward creating the public opinion on the risk of the situation in Ferguson.
The media can affect not only the discussion of the crisis but also the crisis mitigation process and contribute or not to preventing the menace of spreading violence in the society. Hoffman and Oliver-Smith state that people create meanings for “what has occurred, and in the formulation process another aspect of social process comes to light. Very often various interpretations of events are produced, bringing up control of definition and “story”, along with tales of praise and vilification” (Hoffman and Oliver-Smith 11). These interpretations are used by the media to promote their ‘stories’. Bennett claims that “once a story is established, the very fact that there is interest in the topic becomes a related story. The result can be that reportage ‘snowballs’ as media compete for coverage” (Bennett 17).
Thus, such a ‘snowball’ was created by the media as the reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown. This story of shooting developed into the story about racism, then into the story about the turmoil, and then into the story about the nationwide protests. Furthermore, the core of the story is the blame of Darren Wilson, a killer of Brown, who was not indicted in the shooting according to McClam’s article for the NBC News (McClam par. 2). As a result, the effects of the media for the crisis mitigation in case of Ferguson are ambiguous because, on the one hand, the discussion of the story drew the public’s attention to the problem and, on the other hand, a creation of reportage ‘snowballs’ did not add to finding the ways to manage the crisis.
The situation in Ferguson led to the nationwide protests because of the context according to which the shooting of Michael Brown was discussed. According to Frewer, the examination of the wide social context in which the information about risks is provided is important (Frewer 20). Focusing on the context, it is possible to determine two reasons in order to explain the wave of the riots and protests after the shooting. First, according to Fantz and Ford’s article for CNN, the community of Ferguson is mainly black, but the majority of policemen are the white persons (Fantz and Ford par. 4). Second, racism is a complex social problem the discussion on which is manipulated in the media because of its complicated character. From this point, the social context created the fundament for the active unexpected reactions of the public related the issue.
In addition, the role of the social media in discussing a crisis is also important because such public groups as “Ferguson/Saint Louis Riot Updates” on Facebook influence the people’s perception of the problem significantly. The followers are inclined to discuss the problem as the police’s sickness, as the social issue, and as the unreasonable violence in relation to the acts of vandalism and riots (“Ferguson/Saint Louis Riot Updates”). The most personal commentaries allow speaking about the role of the racial identity for a man who feels risks of being abused because of racial stereotypes (Arkin 724). Furthermore, it is also possible to discuss the importance of the Ferguson question for persons who are focused on their color of skin (Sweetman 167). According to Moran, “cultural differences between human populations are seen as leading inevitably to conflict” (Moran 252). Thus, the events in Ferguson can be discussed as one more turning point in the social discourse regarding the problem of race and racial conflicts in the American society.
Much attention should be paid to the role of black police officers in this situation because of the issue of color-blindness typical for discussing the problem. According to McElhinny, African American police officers refer to color-blindness while discussing the issues of racism in their society (McElhinny 69). The similar color-blindness is characteristic for the official representatives who are responsible for regulating the racial conflicts. However, the problem is in the fact that color-blindness is not typical for the media who can provoke the further development of the conflict (McElhinny 69; Saunders par. 1). If the events in Ferguson are a disaster and a crisis, it is important to find effective solutions. According to Coombs, crises “are threats, but how the crisis is managed determines if the outcomes are threats or opportunities” (Coombs 19). Referring to the Ferguson question, it is possible to state that media are focused on demonization of the situation instead to providing solutions (Beeman 2; Lakoff 53). In this context, the media demonstrate inaccuracy in responding to the crisis.
The events and the processes in Ferguson made the nation discuss many aspects of racism, violence, injustice, in the American society. On the one hand, there is a question of police brutality and racism. On the other hand, there is an issue of the social inequality and vulnerability. From this point, it is important to discuss the aspects of the problem while describing strategies developed to manage the risk of spreading the violence in the context of racism and public protests. The role of the media is also important because Americans are inclined to form their opinions with the references to the presented ‘stories’.
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