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Social Psychology of Ferguson, MO

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Michelle Fung

on 22 September 2014

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Transcript of Social Psychology of Ferguson, MO

What Happened?
So what happened on that fateful night of August 9, 2014? Michael Brown, 18, was shot. The young man was on his way to his grandma's house when he was approached by white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. Though accounts of the incident were unclear, what's undisputed is that the young man was shot even when he was unarmed.
Following this incident:
-five nights of protests, which for the most part, were peaceful
-name of the officer was discovered on the sixth day following the shooting

Cognitive Dissonance
Fundamental Attribution Error
In-Group Bias
Scapegoat Theory
Group Polarization
Cognitive dissonance is the tension felt when one's actions don't match with their thoughts. In most cases, this tension is resolved as the person doing the action aligns their thoughts with their actions.

In the shooting of Michael Brown, cognitive dissonance may have occurred when police officers had to do things like throw tear gas and fire into the crowd. As a reader of this article, we only know what the text tells us and what we don't know is how the officers who did crowd control feels. For all we know, they might feel remorse for being so forceful to the protestors. However, they might justify their actions by telling themselves that they have to for the sake of their job and the safety of the citizens who aren't protesting.
Prejudice is an unjustifiable (usually negative) attitude toward a group and its members. Prejudice generally involves stereotyped beliefs, negative feelings, and a predisposition to discriminatory action.

St Louis is one of the most segregated cities in the U.S. In Ferguson two-thirds of the 21, 100 of their population is black but, in the police only three of the fifty-three policemen are black. Some believe that the reason Darren Wilson shot Brown was because Brown was black. Civil rights activists came down to Ferguson in support of Brown. The people protest against the police departments misconduct and violence towards the lower people.

Fundamental attribution occurs when the effects of personality is overestimated while effects of situation is underestimated.

Officer Darren Wilson, Brown's killer, may have made this error when he first approached Brown and his friend. To Wilson, Brown and his young friend were just another couple of troublesome kids blocking traffic, like how most kids are percieved, overestimating their disposition. Brown and Johnson were reportedly right at their destination when they were approached. Wilson did not take into account of their situation. When Brown responded to Wilson, Wilson did not hear Brown well enough and automatically thought he uttered words of disrespect. With his earlier assumption of Brown as a troublesome teen, his judgements of Brown following the original assumption were only those of negative thoughts.
Conformity occurs when an individual consciously adjusts behavior and attitude towards a group standard.

In the days of protests following Brown's death, some protestors undoubtedly conformed. A person passing by a group people looking up tends to look up as well. During the days of protests, passersby most likely joined the protest, making a conscious decision to join the cause. The social norm in Ferguson was probably to protest police brutality and those who may not have known about it in the beginning days probably adjusted their behaviors and attitudes to match the group standard.
Deinviduation is becoming less restrained and less self-conscious in a group situation, much like losing yourself. This happens most often when people feel anonymous.

When protests began to get violent, there was most likely a sense of deinviduation. As tension becomes more evident, it seems inevitable that the peaceful protest may turn into a dangerous riot. Especially because there are so many people, losing yourself in the crowd is common. Joining in the mob mentality, both crowd control officers and rioters are held accountable for the violent acts. Officers may have lost themselves in the midst of controlling the crowd after the first bullets fired or the first can of tear gas thrown. Protestors may have lost themselves to thinking that they are protecting themselves and fighting the control. Both parties may not normally be that way but in their groups, they most likely lost themselves.
In-Group Bias is the tendency to favor our own group
When the shooting first occurred the police departments was reluctant in releasing the name of the officer that shot Brown, but, after six days Darren Wilson’s name was finally released. The police Chief's reason for not releasing Wilson's name was that he feared for Wilson's safety and that Wilson was a six year veteran with no history of disciplinary action. The police chief was protecting one of his own officers and he might have believed Wilson was incapable of such a crime because of his clean record.

Scapegoat theory says that finding someone to blame when things go wrong can provide a target for one's anger.

In a city as segregated as Ferguson, there are no doubts that racial tensions are present. Reportedly, African Americans account for 86% of traffic stops even though only 63% of them make up Ferguson's population. The FBI reported that, from 2005 to 2012, a black citizen is killed by a white officer nearly twice a week. Clearly the deaths of African Americans are not uncommon, it just so happens that the death of Michael Brown attracted national attention. Suddenly, racial prejudice is brought to light and the scapegoats are Ferguson police, but more importantly, Officer Darren Wilson. African Americans are killed nationwide but the focus is currently the strongest of the police force of segregated Ferguson.
Group Polarization is the enhancement of a group's prevailing inclinations through discussion with the group.

One of the major ways that the Ferguson case have been getting attention is through social media. Some might have been indifferent about the case, but when a lot of people start talking about the side they are on with intense passion, one might be drawn to that side whether Darren Wilson's or Micheal Brown's side based on the group that some individuals might have been listening to.
Social Psychology of Ferguson, MO
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