Read a Powerful Letter About Michael Brown and Ferguson

Community leaders join hands and form a barrier between police officers and protesters in attempt to diffuse the escalation between the two, during a peaceful protest in Ferguson, Missouri early on August 20, 2014. Police lowered their profile on August 19, and refrained from using tear gas, to allow a more orderly night of protests in this St Louis suburb 10 days after the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager.      AFP PHOTO / Michael B. Thomas        (Photo credit should read Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo: Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images

It’s no surprise that sociologists, perhaps the group of researchers most dedicated to understanding issues of race and inequality, have strong feelings about the death of Michael Brown and the subsequent violence in Ferguson, Missouri. A letter just released by Sociologists for Justice  has been signed by more than 500 of them and counting (more than a hundred have added their names since the letter was posted with its original headline), and it’s worth a read, in part because it contains some practical suggestions for how to prevent these sorts of tragedies from occurring in the future.

Here it is:

Four Hundred Sociologists Demand Justice and Change in Policing of Communities of Color

What’s useful about this letter is that all eight of the suggestions listed on the second page (1) are based on established, hard-to-argue-with facts about either Ferguson or race in the justice system in general (check out Michele Alexander’s book if you have any doubts about the latter — I’ve probably recommended it half a dozen times since Ferguson erupted, but there’s a reason for that); and (2) focus on concrete steps that can be taken to improve things.

Slogans like “End racism now!” are all well and good — not to mention hard to argue with — but improving things is a process that involves understanding how different institutions work, and this letter reflects that. Some of the suggestions are more likely to be implemented than others, of course, but none is a total moon-shot, and each would be a step in the right direction.