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The Color of Police Action in these United States

 Saptarishi Bandopadhyay, under supervision of Charles R. Nesson  
Product number:
22 pages
PDF with video links
Product Type:
Workshop-Based Case Study
Link to Faculty Author Page:

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In 2014, the United States faced a major, ongoing controversy, a crisis of humanity: the killing of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement across the country.

This case study familiarizes students with this issue in two parts. The first part offers an account of the deaths of two African Americans, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, at the hands of police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, respectively. It studies the decisions reached by the Grand Jury, in each case, with respect to whether or not the officers involved in the killings should be indicted on criminal charges. It also describes the nationwide protest movement which emerged in response to these events, bringing with it a murky legacy of promise, ambiguity, and violence. The second part presents a pair of overarching and often ideologically tinged interpretations of these events, both of which have found significant purchase in the public imagination. Video footage and news coverage, accessible via hyperlink from the case materials, also frames the issue.

To deliberate the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, participants constitute themselves as a grand jury. Participants select a standard for deciding whether a charge is warranted, which is then used to determine whether to charge Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown and Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. Participants learn to govern themselves in light of one of the most difficult and divisive issues of our time, emerging as skilled deliberators and informed, engaged citizens.

Please note that the media included in the case materials may be disturbing to some viewers.

Learning Objectives

  • Examine the highly troubling and polarizing recent cases of police violence against black civilians
  • Practice acting as a Grand Jury member, approaching a highly charged topic with empathy and respect for peers
  • Consider the role of the Grand Jury in the United States
  • Deliberate without rancor a highly emotionally-charged issue

Subjects Covered

Law enforcement, African Americans, homicide, Grand Jury, police officers, racism, bias, prosecutorial discretion, protest, militarism, social media movements, Department of Justice investigations, use of force, I Can’t Breathe, structural inequity, systemic racism, riots, deliberation


Geographic: United States, primarily Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York

Industry: Law Enforcement; Justice

Event Start Date: 2014

Hard Copy

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Additional Information 

New MOOC Blends Multimedia Case Studies and Synchronous Online Participation

The Jury Is In: New Cases Deliberate Social Issues in Cyberspace

Making the Case for Unfacilitated Case Discussion: How Students Make Meaning of Case Studies


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