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News Posted on August 28, 2014

Aoki Center Hosts Town Hall Discussion on Policing, Racial Tensions in Ferguson

Aoki Town HallOn August 28, the Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies at UC Davis School of Law hosted a town hall discussion on the shooting of teenager Michael Brown and the aftermath in Ferguson, Missouri. The discussion was organized by the faculty and students of the Aoki Center and featured remarks by Professors Angela Harris, Gabriel "Jack" Chin, and Rose Cuison Villazor. An audience of more than 100 students, faculty members, and staff filled the Kalmanovitz Appellate Courtroom and joined the discussion.

"Ferguson should be an awakening for everybody," said Professor Villazor, who began her presentation by providing social and legal context for the unrest in the city. She explained the role of property law in determining where people of different races live in the St. Louis area, and the occurrence of "white flight," in which many white residents moved to the suburbs.

"We are still seeing de facto segregation based on race," she said. "This racial segregation has affected the way residents interact with the police."

Professor Chin, an expert on civil rights and criminal law, noted that Ferguson's population is roughly two-thirds African-American, but only three of the 50 officers in the Ferguson Police Department are black. Calling racial disparities in policing "a vicious cycle," Chin also spoke of the corrections system as a lucrative business.

"Historically, in Missouri, imprisoning African-Americans - disproportionate minority incarceration - has been a source of income and jobs for the rest of the community," he said.

Professor Chin cited the effectiveness of diversity training in combating implicit bias in the police force: "Evidence suggests police officers, less often than ordinary citizens, construe ambiguous situations through the lens of race."

Several students asked questions on topics ranging from the militarization of police to ways the judicial branch can effect positive change. The King Hall student chapter of the National Lawyers Guild announced that it will host a follow-up meeting to continue the dialogue on Ferguson.

The Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies is an initiative led by faculty and students at UC Davis School of Law to honor the life and work of the late Professor Keith Aoki. He contributed to scholarship in many fields, especially in critical theory, race, and immigration issues. The Aoki Center carries on Professor Aoki's legacy through faculty scholarship in these areas and by encouraging students to develop their interests in critical theory.