What we now refer to simply as "Ferguson" erupted in August of 20T4 and immediately raised a cluster o f legal issues. What crime had Michael Brown allegedly committed? Did Officer Darren Wilson commit a crime when he shot at Brown? Protests ensued, and they in turn inspired a police response, a response that seemed to many more violent than the protests themselves. What of the First Amendment rights o f the protesters and o f the journalists covering them? What laws were they-protestors and some journalists-supposedly breaking?1
As the days and weeks passed, the legal issues multiplied, and the layers of the city o f Ferguson slowly unraveled. ArchCity Defenders, a local nonprofit organization, reported that the town made money by fining its residents, and then fining them again when they didn't show up in court to pay their fines--which led to wan-ants being issued for their arrests.2 The Washington Post painted a picture of Ferguson residents as fugitives in their own city.3 Broader legal issues were now being raised about the political organization of the city--where the mayor was mostly a figurehead, and a shadow "city manager" ran the show-and about the byzantine structure of St. Louis County, which had about 90 municipalities and 60 police departments, a confusing structure that led citizens to mistrust the government.4 Soon, police conduct and misconduct, training, and discipline became running themes not only in Ferguson, but all across the United States.
As these events unfolded, I was teaching at St. Louis University School of Law ("SLU Law"), a short drive away from Ferguson. Ferguson was inescapably "our" problem. Faculty members routinely fielded phone calls from reporters and proclucers.3 Our legal clinic became involved in litigation and community outreach. Law students made regular trips to Ferguson: to protest, to act as legal observers, to register people to vote, or simply to help out in any way they could. During a conversation with a fellow faculty member, it occurred to me Ferguson needed its own place in our curriculum, and Ferguson the class was born.
My colleague Sue McGraugh and I organized the class, which was taught in spring 2015, but it turned out to be a collaborative effort, featuring more than a dozen guest speakers. Below, I explain how we structured the class, what went well, and what didn't go well. I also try to draw some broader lessons about teaching a class like Ferguson.
Chad Flanders. Teaching "Ferguson". Journal of Legal Education, v. 65, no. 2 (November 2015).