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.
- 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
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
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For more information about the Problem Solving Workshop, or to request a teaching note for this case study, contact the Case Studies Program at HLSCaseStudies@law.harvard.edu or + 1-617-496-1316.
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