Police Shootings Provide Teaching Moments


Sign of the times: A protester outside the Detriot Institute of Arts holds a sign that asks if he will be the next black man to die from a police shooting.

The recent deaths of Missouri teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City have turned into teaching moments at Southfield High School.
History and English teachers used aspects of the deaths and the ensuing protests for classroom lessons.
History teacher Andrew Green says, “It is imperative that we as teachers step back and live in the ‘now’. I try to always teach that racism and sexism are not only in other parts of the world, but the United States as well.”
Green and his students held an open discussion about the incidents and let students voice their opinions on the situations.
Juniors Paige O’Neal and Dawon Fergerson, who are both students in Green’s seventh hour class, say that they appreciated learning about these tragic topics in school because they don’t watch the news much and would not have been abreast to these current events.
English Teacher Virna Hobbs-Calhoun said, “This incident makes everything seem much more real to the students. They are now able to see why people protest.”
Hobbs-Calhoun said she was already working on a literature unit called “Voices of Protest” and was easily able to incorporate discussion of the Ferguson shooting and the New York choke hold death into her classes.
In Advanced Placement Literature courses, seniors read a Facebook posting by NFL player Benjamin Watson about the Ferguson incident and studied the writer’s use of literary devices such as anaphora that made the work more powerful.
Other students, such as senior Ariel Walker, created her own teaching moment by going downtown Detroit to join the peaceful protest in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts on December 6.
At the protest, participants carried signs that said, “I Can’t Breathe,” “#Black Lives Matter,” “Am I Next?” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!.” , “No Justice, No Peace!”, and “They Shoot Us Down, We Shut Them Down!” These sayings flooded the streets of Ferguson, Missouri and New York City.
In the Ferguson incident, Brown, an 18-year-old boy, was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9. Brown was unarmed. This situation angered many Americans.
On November 28, 2014 the grand jury decided there was not enough evidence to indict Officer Wilson, sending constituents of Missouri into another uproar.
In the Garner incident, a 29-year-old man who was illegally selling cigarettes was put in a choke hold on July 14 by police officer Daniel Pantaleo and died after saying, “I can’t breathe.”