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Calling in the ethicist: Reflecting on Ferguson with understanding for protesters and police

Protesters are greeted by lines of state and county police during a demonstration march on the Ferguson police station on August 11, 2014.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI
Protesters are greeted by lines of state and county police during a demonstration march on the Ferguson police station on August 11, 2014.

An upcoming conference on Ferguson has promised “not to re-litigate the past,” but organizers instead hope to draw lessons for the future on both the rights of protesters and the difficult job that police officers face when they put on their uniforms each day. “The Ethics of Ferguson – Policing, Prosecuting, and Protesting” is the name of the conference, which will take place at Harris-Stowe State University on Friday, Nov. 20.

Credit Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio
Wally Siewert and Dan Isom

Bernice King, the youngest child of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the CEO of the King Center, is the keynote speaker for the conference, which is hosted by UMSL's Center for Ethics in Public Life. King joined “St. Louis on the Air” on Tuesday to discuss the issues the conference will cover. The UMSL center’s director, Wally Siewert, Ph.D, Dan Isom, Ph.D, the retired chief of police for the City of St. Louis and UMSL criminology professor, as well as former St. Louis police captain Charles Alphin also joined the program in advance of the conference.

“The reason that I think it is important to have the conversation is there has been a lot of talk about structural issues that need to change,” Siewert said. “There are also decisions at the individual level: that protester who decides just how far they want to push things, the police officer who decides how to approach the situation, the police chief who decides what frame of mind to send his officers out into the field with, the prosecutor who has to make a decision to prosecute cases against a police department he has to work with. I wanted to talk about individuals and how they make decisions on a day-to-day basis.”

Siewert said that the decisions in these cases are not about answering what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong.’ “If it were that easy, you wouldn’t need the ethicist,” Siewert said.

Related Event

What: UMSL's Center for Ethics in Public Life Presents "The Ethics of Ferguson: Policing, Prosecuting and Protesting
When: Friday, Nov. 20  from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Where: Clay Early Childhood Center, Harris-Stowe State University, 3026 Laclede Ave, St. Louis, MO 63103
More information.

"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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