Protest and Policing: Conflict, Justice, and History in Ferguson, Missouri

  • Susan Opotow
Part of the Jepson Studies in Leadership book series (JSL)


On August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American youth, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white Ferguson police officer. The circumstances of the shooting and the intensity of the protests that followed were front-page news in the United States and abroad. This chapter examines how conflict, justice, and history entwined in the period after the shooting, attentive to the history of housing segregation and aggressive policing in the region that shaped an exclusionary status quo. The chapter concludes by discussing the US Department of Justice (DoJ) investigation of the Ferguson Police Department released in March 2015. To rectify policing practices that violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution, the DoJ proposed reparative and inclusionary policies to bring Ferguson in line with federal standards for fair and effective policing.


Police Officer York Time Procedural Justice Police Department Structural Violence 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allport, G.W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing.Google Scholar
  2. Apuzzo, M. (2014, Aug. 19). What military gear your local police department bought. The New York Times. Retrieved from:
  3. Apuzzo, M., & Eligon, J. (2015, Mar. 5). Ferguson police tainted by bias, Justice Department says. The New York Times, p. A1.Google Scholar
  4. ArchCity Defenders (2014, August) Municipal CourtsWhite Paper. Retrieved 29 September 2014 at
  5. Arendt, H. (1963). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the banality of evil. New York: Viking.Google Scholar
  6. Balko, R. (2014, Sep. 3). How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty. Washington Post. Retrieved from
  7. Bandura, A. (1990). Selective activation and disengagement of moral control. Journal of Social Issues, 46(1), 27–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barry, D. (2014, Aug. 22). Police, protesters and reporters form uneasy cast for nightly show in Ferguson, The NewYork Times, A15.Google Scholar
  9. Bekiempis, V. (2014, Aug. 14). Driving While Black in Ferguson. Newsweek. Retrieved from
  10. Bosman, J., & Fitzsimmons, E.G. (2014, Aug. 11). Grief and protests follow shooting of a teenager: Police say Mike Brown was killed after struggle for gun in St. Louis suburb. The NewYork Times, p. A11.Google Scholar
  11. Bosman, J., & Goldstein, J. (2014, Aug. 24). Timeline for a body: 4 hours in the middle of a Ferguson street. The NewYork Times, p.A16.Google Scholar
  12. Bosman, J., & Goode, E. (2014, Aug. 11). F.B.I. steps in amid unrest after police kill Missouri youth. The NewYork Times, A1.Google Scholar
  13. Bustamante, P. (2015, Feb. 11). Roots and research: A Ferguson Warning in ’68. First Year History Project, PhD Program in Critical Social/Personality Psychology, The Graduate Center, City University of NewYork.Google Scholar
  14. Callahan, Y. (2014, Aug. 11). #IfTheyGunnedMeDown shows how black people are portrayed in mainstream media. The Root. Retrieved from:
  15. Cherry, F. (2004). Kenneth B. Clark and social psychology’s other history. In G. Philogene (Ed.). Racial identity in context: The legacy of Kenneth B. Clark (pp. 17–33). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Coser, L. (1956). The functions of social conflict. NewYork: Free Press.Google Scholar
  17. Danzig, L. (1951). Postscript. In M. Deutsch & M.E. Collins, Interracial housing: A psychological evaluation of a social experiment (pp. 130–131). NewYork: Russell & Russell.Google Scholar
  18. Davey, M., Eligon, J., & Blinder, A. (2014, Aug. 19). Missouri tries another idea: Call in Guard, The NewYork Times, p. A1.Google Scholar
  19. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (2015, Mar, 4). Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. Retrieved from
  20. Deutsch, M. (1969). Conflicts: Productive and destructive. Journal of Social Issues, 25(1), 7–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Deutsch, M. (1973). The resolution of conflict. New Haven, CT:Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Deutsch, M. (1985). Distributive justice: A social psychological perspective. New Haven, CT: Yale University.Google Scholar
  23. Deutsch, M., & Collins, M.E. (1951). Interracial housing: A psychological evaluation of a social experiment. New York: Russell & Russell.Google Scholar
  24. Duster, T. (1971). Conditions for a guilt-free massacre. In N. Sanford & C. Comstock (Eds.), Sanctions for evil. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  25. Dutton, S., De Pinto, J., Salvanto, A., & Backus, F. (2014, Aug, 21). Did the protesters and police in Ferguson go too far? CBS NEWS. Retrieved from:
  26. Dwyer, J. (2015, Apr. 17). A police shot to a boy’s back in Queens, echoing since 1973. The New York Times, p. A1.Google Scholar
  27. Dyson, M.E. (2014, Nov. 20). Where do we go after Ferguson? [Op-ed]. The New York Times, p. SR1.Google Scholar
  28. Earl, J., Martin, A., McCarthy, J.D., & Soule, S. (2004). The use of newspaper data in the study of collective action. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 65–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Editorial Board. (2015, May 17). Housing apartheid, American style. The NewYork Times, p.SR10.Google Scholar
  30. Editorial Board. (2014, Sept. 7). Justice in St. Louis County. The New York Times, p.SR10.Google Scholar
  31. Felstiner, W.L.F., Abel, R.L., & Sarat, A. (1980–1981). The emergence and transformation of disputes: Naming, blaming, claiming. Law & Society Review, 15(3/4), 631–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Fine, M., & Ruglis, J. (2009). Circuits and consequences of dispossession: The racialised realignment of the public sphere for U.S. youth. Transforming Anthropology, 17(1), 20–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Fisher, R. (2000). Intergroup conflict. In M. Deutsch & P.T. Coleman (Eds.), The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory to practice (pp. 166–184). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  34. Fryer, D. (1986). The social psychology of the invisible: An interview with Marie Jahoda by David Fryer. New Ideas in Psychology, 4(1), 107–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, peace, and peace research. Journal of Peace Research, 3, 167–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hannah-Jones, N. (2014, Dec. 19). School segregation, the continuing tragedy of Ferguson. ProPublica. Retrieved from
  37. Harris, C. (2006). Whitewashing race: Scapegoating culture. California Law Review, 94, 907–943.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Harvey, D. (2004). Conversations with David Harvey: A geographer’s perspective on the New American Imperialism. Berkeley: University of California, Institute of International Studies. Retrieved from Scholar
  39. Housing integration succeeds in Newark. (1951, Nov. 3). The Afro-American. Retrieved from QmAAAAIBAJ&sjid=kgIGAAAAIBAJ&pg=6103%2C2289593)
  40. Itao, A.D. (2010). Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutics of symbols: a critical dialectic of suspicion and faith. KRITIKE, 4(2), 1–17.Google Scholar
  41. Jones, R.P. (2014, Aug. 21). Self-segregation: Why it’s so hard for whites to understand Ferguson. The Atlantic. Retrieved from
  42. Josselson, R. (Ed.). (1996). Ethics and process in the narrative study of lives (Vol. 4). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  43. Kelman, H.C. (1973). Violence without moral restraint: Reflections on the dehumanization of victims and victimizers. Journal of Social Issues, 29(4), 25–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kelman, H.C., & Hamilton, V.L. (1989). Crimes of obedience. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Kennedy, R., & Schuessler, J. (2014, Aug. 15). Ferguson images evoke Civil Rights era and changing visual perceptions, The NewYork Times, p. A14.Google Scholar
  46. staff (2014, Aug. 9). Local news: Multiple investigations underway in Ferguson shooting. Retrieved from
  47. Lewin, K. (1939). Field theory and experiment in social psychology (1939). American Journal of Sociology, 44(6), 868–896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Levs, J. (2014, Aug. 15). Ferguson violence: Critics rip police tactics, use of military equipment. CNN. Retrieved from tactics/
  49. Lifton, R.J. (1986). The Nazi doctors. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  50. Lind, E.A., & Tyler, T.R. (1988). The social psychology of procedural justice. New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lyons, A. (2015, Mar. 6). New twist in the Ferguson case [Letter to the editor]. The New York Times, p.A28.Google Scholar
  52. Martin, S.E., & Hansen, K.A. (1998). Newspapers of record in a digital age: From hot type to hot link. London: Greenwood.Google Scholar
  53. Meranto, P.J. (Ed.). (1970). The Kerner Report revisited: Final report and background papers (Vol. 67, No. 121). Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois. Retrieved from
  54. Nolen, C. (2014, Aug. 18). TV crews hit by bean bags, tear gas. Retrieved from
  55. Opotow, S. (1990). Moral exclusion and injustice: An introduction. Journal of Social Issues, 46, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Opotow, S. (1991). Adolescent peer conflicts: Implications for students and for schools. Education and Urban Society, 23, 416–441. doi:10.1177/0013124591023004005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Opotow, S. (1993). Animals and the scope of justice. Journal of Social Issues, 49(1), 71–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Opotow, S. (1994). Predicting protection: Scope of justice and the natural world. Journal of Social Issues, 50(3), 49–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Opotow, S. (1995). Drawing the line: Social categorization, moral exclusion, and the scope of justice. In B.B. Bunker & J.Z. Rubin (Eds.), Conflict, cooperation, and justice (pp. 347–369). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  60. Opotow, S. (2005). Hate, conflict, and moral exclusion. In R.J. Sternberg (Ed). The psychology of hate (pp. 121–153). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Opotow, S. (2008). Conflict and justice after the American Civil War: Inclusion and exclusion in the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. In K.A. Hegtvedt & J. Clay-Warner (Eds.), Advances in group processes: Special issue on justice, Vol. 25 (pp. 55–85). Greenwich, CT:JAI Press.Google Scholar
  62. Opotow, S. (2011). How this was possible: Interpreting the Holocaust. Journal of Social Issues, 67(1), 205–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Opotow, S. (2012a). The scope of justice, intergroup conflict, and peace. In L.R. Tropp (Ed.), Oxford handbook of intergroup conflict and peace (pp. 72–86). Oxford, UK: Oxford Library of Psychology.Google Scholar
  64. Opotow, S. (in press). Social justice and injustice: Theory and practice. In P.L. Hammack, Jr. (Editor), Handbook of social psychology and social justice. Oxford Library of Psychology.Google Scholar
  65. Opotow, S., & Deutsch, M. (1999). Learning to cope with conflict and violence: How schools can help youth. In E. Frydenberg (Ed.), Learning to cope: Developing as a person in complex societies (pp. 198–224). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Opotow, S., & McClelland, S.I. (2007). The intensification of hating: A theory. Social Justice Research, 20(1), 68–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Opotow, S., & Weiss, L. (2000). Denial and exclusion in environmental conflict. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 475–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Peters, J.W. (2014, Aug. 15). Missouri unrest leaves the right torn over views on law vs. order. The New York Times, A11.Google Scholar
  69. Pettigrew, T.F., Tropp, L.R., Wagner, U., & Christ, O. (2011). Recent advances in intergroup contact theory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35(3), 271–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Pepitone, A. (2006). Lewin and social science. In J. Trempata, A. Pepitone, & B.H. Raven (Eds.), Lewinian psychology (pp. 121–135). Bydgoszcz, Poland: Kazimierz Wielki University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Pew Research Center (2014, Aug. 18). Stark racial divisions in reactions to Ferguson police shooting. Retrieved from: in-reactions-to-ferguson-police-shooting/
  72. Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). (2014, Aug. 28). Analysis: Race and Americans’ social networks. Washington, DC: Public Religion Research Institute. Retrieved from
  73. Ramsey, D.X. (2015, Mar. 13). It’s time to focus on the other Fergusons in America. New Republic. Retrieved from
  74. Ricoeur, P. (1981). Hermeneutics and the human sciences (J.B. Thompson, Ed. & Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  75. Robertson, C. (2014, Aug. 22). Among whites, protests stir a range of emotions and a lot of perplexity. The New York Times, p. A15.Google Scholar
  76. Robertson, C. (2015, Mar. 5). A city where policing, discrimination and raising revenue went hand in hand. The NewYork Times, p. A14.Google Scholar
  77. Robinson, N., & Nimni, O. (2015, Mar. 13). The shocking finding from the DoJ’s Ferguson. Report that nobody has noticed. Huffington Post. Retrieved from:
  78. Robertson, C., Dewan, S., & Apuzzo, M. (2015, Mar. 7, 2015). Ferguson became symbol of an ill plaguing the US. The NewYork Times, A1.Google Scholar
  79. Robles, F. (2014, Sep. 12). Mistrust lingers as Ferguson takes new tack on fines. The New York Times, A11.Google Scholar
  80. Rothstein, R. (2014, Oct. 15). The Making of Ferguson: Public policies at the root of its troubles. Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved from:
  81. Staub, E. (1989). The roots of evil: Origins of genocide and other group violence. NewYork: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  82. Stevens, G., Duncan, N., & Hook, D. (Eds.) (2013). Race, memory and the Apartheid archive: Towards a transformative psychosocial praxis (pp. 82–89). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  83. Sweeney, P., & Opotow, S. (2013). “Why there?” Islamophobia, environmental conflict, and justice at Ground Zero. Social Justice Research, 26(4), 492–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Thibaut, J., & Walker, L. (1975). Procedural justice: A psychological analysis. Hillsdale, NJ: Erhbaum.Google Scholar
  85. United States National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. (1968). The Kerner report: The 1968 report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Washington, DC: Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  86. United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. (2015, Mar. 4). Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. Retrieved from
  87. US2010 (n.d). Ethnic and racial composition data for the city area: Ferguson City. The Russell Sage Foundation & Brown University. Retrieved at
  88. Vega, T. (2014, Aug. 13). Shooting spurs hashtag effort on stereotypes. The NewYork Times, A1.Google Scholar
  89. Wacquant, L. (2002, Jan.–Feb.). From slavery to mass incarceration: New Left Review, 13, 41–60.Google Scholar
  90. Wing, N. (2014, Aug. 14). When the media treats white suspects and killers better than black victims. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Susan Opotow 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan Opotow

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations