Students discuss racism, stereotypes; suggest solutions for Ames community


Kevin Larson/Iowa State Daily

Kendra White, senior in chemistry, shares her feelings and experiences in Ferguson, Mo., after the shooting of Michael Brown. The African-American student organizations on campus met Dec. 1 to share feelings and discuss a way for the Ames community to respond to the issues surrounding Ferguson. 

Makayla Tendall

Though the grand jury gave its verdict and some riots in Ferguson, Mo., have calmed, ISU students and organizations met to discuss how they feel after the decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson and their goals for change for African-Americans in the community.

A total of 66 students, 13 of which were not African-American, met in Carver Hall Dec. 1 to talk about the personal emotions regarding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and how best to react to the grand jury’s decision.

Briana Smith, president of the National PanHellenic Council, led the discussion between student groups such as the chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Black Student Alliance and Womyn of Colour.

The discussion began with a student asking if the unrest in Ferguson is due to a failure in the criminal justice system or racism. Many said they believe there are gaps in the criminal justice system, and that the trial for Wilson would fail from the beginning.

“You can’t get justice for a system that wasn’t built for you,” said Daria Hicks, freshman in electrical engineering who attended Ferguson-Florissant High. “The jury was made up of three African-Americans and nine white people, but this is an equal representation of the community?”

Other attendees said they also saw gaps in the criminal justice system, though it is almost impossible to create a law that will shut down racism in the criminal justice system. They said the execution of the laws in the criminal justice system is the problem because the law can be interpreted in many different ways, while others said the issue of police profiling African-Americans is the heart of the problem.

“If you take guns away from the police officers, how are they going to protect us when they really need to protect us?” one student said.

“They aren’t protecting us,” another answered. “They killed Mike Brown.”

Hicks said there were many “red flags” in the investigation that should have been brought to light. The grand jury taking 100 days just for a verdict, was unnecessary, she said. Another flag was when the Ferguson Police Department made an announcement saying Wilson stopped Brown and his friend without knowing he was a robbery suspect.

“They said someone else near the store, or in the store called it in. Explain to me that the [cigarillos] that he stole, were they found on him? At least they found the Arizona Tea and Skittles pack on Trayvon Martin,” Hicks said. “No [Wilson] pulled him over because he and his friends were walking down the street. And he [Brown] cussed you [Wilson] out, and you got mad.”

Many also said they disliked the way Ferguson was painted as an out of control, impoverished community subject to criminal acts by President Obama’s speech after the verdict. Jared Ingram and Kendra White, both members of the ISU track team from Ferguson, said their hometown is in no way impoverished and that the looters and rioters were predominantly visitors who came to take advantage of the situation.  

Despite the lack of agreement on the issues with law enforcement, students agreed that the heart of the issue is racism. Some students said there is still unrest in Ferguson because the case of Michael Brown has become a symbolic one.

Kierra White, freshman in animal science from Ferguson, said there has been a history of tension between police and the African-American community across the nation.

“St. Louis may be that city to represent the whole nation,” Hicks said. “We’re tired of everything. Let it be known that we realize what [law enforcement] is doing. You just so happened to go to the wrong city, and now we’re going to show you. We’re showing you that we realize what you’re doing, and we’re fighting back.”

The two agreed that there is a lack of representation of African-American police officers across the nation and especially in Ferguson. They also said there is a lack of communication between law enforcement and members of the African-American community.

They said there is a distrust on both sides. Hicks said because of the area she grew up in — an impoverished area near Ferguson — that she had personal experiences where she felt racially profiled by police. Kendra and Kierra said they also experienced profiling they considered racist on different occasions.

This racism, they said, stems out of the law enforcement’s fear.

“You don’t see a lot of black communities being a black community. We get together, we complain, we post all this stuff on social media, we do riots, but where did we get together and talk about it? Don’t just talk about it, be about it,” Kierra said. “What if Martin Luther King Jr. said ‘oh, this is too hard?’”

Hicks said the African-American community is coming together to fight against racism, racism that can be seen through incidents throughout the nation. Kendra also said the media is to blame for the underrepresentation of the successes and peaceful protests of the African-Americans. Instead, they showed the violence and criminal acts that were displayed in the riots.

The group of students made recommendations on how to influence the ISU and Ames community in an attempt to shut down racism. Recommendations included connecting with local law enforcement, so African-Americans know their rights when interacting with police.

Hicks and Kierra said they attended a meeting in October with Geoff Huff, investigations commander of the Ames Police Department and an officer from the ISU Police Department to talk about rights.

Another recommendation included teaching the community about African-American history that was not taught in schools.

Kierra said when she first heard of Brown’s death, she and her sister thought the death could easily have been their teenage brother. They said their brother didn’t know about the Klu Klux Klan, which shows how poorly schools are sharing accurate history of African-Americans.

Race is a social construct, many students agreed. Change will only begin if you change the minds of society.   

“If we show Caucasian children that they don’t need to be afraid of their black neighbor, then they won’t grow up to kill that same neighbor,” said Joi Latson, freshman in nutritional science.