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Ferguson on the minds of many at Duke

A diverse crowd of more than 300 students, faculty and community members packed the Nelson Music Room on Duke University's East Campus for what organizers described as an academic event - not a rally or call to action - about the police shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Nearly a month after an unarmed 18-year-old was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., questions remain regarding the incident and how the country responds to issues stemming from it.

Some of those questions were asked during a town hall forum at Duke University on Monday.

A diverse crowd of about 300 students, faculty and community members packed the Nelson Music Room on the school’s East Campus for what organizers described as an academic event – not a rally or call to action.

Karla Holloway, a Duke English and law professor who participated in the panel discussion, said the event was born out of concern that social media conversations weren’t doing enough to facilitate good discussion and debate about the shooting.

“We wanted to make sure to give our students here at Duke the opportunity to ask more thoughtful and in-depth questions, and to even question what they're seeing on social media and what they might be participating in themselves,” said Holloway, who also helped organize the event.

Monday’s forum comes following weeks of protests and unrest in the St. Louis suburb, which included the deployment of Missouri National Guard troops to help quell the rioting, looting and violence.

Clashes between protesters and police, which included exchanges of Molotov cocktails, tear gas and smoke bombs, have resulted in multiple arrests.

Local and federal investigators are still determining whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson unlawfully shot and killed Michael Brown Jr. on Aug. 9. Witnesses claim Brown had his arms in the air when he was shot while Ferguson police said the teenager was killed during a scuffle with Wilson.

A private autopsy found that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head and four times in the right arm.

Tensions have since remained high between Ferguson’s majority black residents and nearly all-white police force.

The shooting sparked protests and rallies across the country calling for peace and improved police-community relations, including events in Durham and Raleigh.

It also sparked nationwide discussions on race relations, police body cameras – Ferguson officers recently started wearing them – and whether local police departments are becoming too militarized. Officers responding to the Ferguson protests were criticized for their militarized weapons and vehicles, which some said further fueled contention between residents and police.

In Durham, the conversation focused on police policy, race relations and the status of black men in America. The five-member panel of Duke professors represented a number of disciplines, including sociology, African-American studies, literature, black popular culture and religion.

“I was just curious to hear what the panel had to say about the Ferguson events,” said Zimife Umbh, a Duke student. “It's obviously an event that a lot of people are paying attention to and it affects a lot of students at Duke.”

Holloway, the event co-organizer, hopes Monday’s discussion will continue into the school year.

“We don't expect anything coming out of this other than more focused and interesting questions in our classrooms,” she said.


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