The Center for Ethics in Public Life Presents The 4th Annual Public Ethics Conference:

 The Ethics of Ferguson – Policing, Prosecuting, and Protesting

Clay Early Childhood Center, Harris-Stowe State University

Friday Nov. 20th, 2015 9 AM-5 PM


Events in Ferguson (and beyond) have given rise to a storm of conflict and distrust between police, prosecutors, and the people they serve. Such social upheaval creates complex ethical dilemmas. Individuals on the front line (protesters and police) must find that delicate balance between vital free speech and unjustified social disruption and destruction. Prosecutors must apply the law when law enforcement itself is being challenged, and officers of the law are accused of capital crimes. History teaches us that successful social movements and law and order are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but neither are they easy roommates, especially when those policing a protest are also the target of the protest.

This conference was designed not to re-litigate the past, but to draw lessons for the future of our diverse community from an objective and informed conversation that respects both the protester’s rights and grievances and the difficult job the police and prosecutors are asked to do every day.

Keynote Speaker:

Dr. Bernice A. King, Chief Executive Officer of the King Center will be speaking with Captain (retired) Charles Alphin, Director of Education and Training of The King Center on NON-VIOLENCE, THE PRESCRIPTION FOR VIOLENCE

See below for a full list of panelists and speakers:


Thank you to everyone who attended the conference and helped to make it such a success.  We are currently working to post videos, pictures, and other material from the conference on this page.  Check back soon!

Questions we addressed included:

  • What makes the difference between justified civil disobedience and unjustified public disruption?
  • How can protests/civil disobedience be both highly effective and mindful of the community affected?
  • How can policing of protests/civil disobedience be both highly effective and mindful of the community affected?
  • How can we best address the threat of bad actors on the police force?
  • How can we best address the threat of bad actors among the protesters?
  • How should the prosecution of alleged unjustified police killings be handled?
  • How should prosecutions of citizens arrested at protests be handled?


Policing: This panel discussed two issues:

  1. How can police forces most effectively deal with bad actors within their ranks? At issue here are possible reforms such as body cameras, civilian oversight, cultural and de-escalation training, and also the data being collected on police actions.
  2. How can policing of protests/civil disobedience be both highly effective and mindful of the community affected? What makes the difference between legitimate public safety policing and unjustified escalation and confrontation of protesters? How can police forces maintain safety and security in the community while also allowing for constitutional freedom of speech/association etc… and maintaining the respect of the community at large?


  • Dr. Dan Isom -E. Desmond Lee Professor of Policing and the Community at UMSL and former Police Chief, City of St. Louis
  • Shira Truitt – Vice-President, Mound City Bar Association
  • Alderman Antonio D. French -Board of Aldermen, 21st Ward, City of St. Louis
  • Captain Ronald S. Johnson – Missouri State Highway Patrol

Prosecuting: This panel discussed several related issues:

  1. Are there procedural safeguards that can be put in place to alleviate the deep distrust the community now has in such cases? What are the pros and cons of the different kinds of grand jury procedures? Is presenting all the evidence to the grand jury a more democratic process than presenting only the incriminating evidence? When prosecutors discover they have mistakenly presented an older version of the relevant statute how should they handle this in order not to taint the proceedings? How should we address the fact that in such cases prosecutors are asked to prosecute the police they work closely with regularly? Where is the threshold for a conflict of interest? Should even the appearance of conflicts of interest mean that a special prosecutor is called even if the prosecutor feels there is no conflict? What about reforms like in CA where they have banned grand juries from police shooting cases? Is that a good or bad idea? Why?


  • Rachel Smith – Chief Prosecutor, Community Affairs Bureau, Saint Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office
  • Dion Sankar – Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office (Kansas City)
  • Tony Rothert – Legal Director, ACLU-MO
  • Kimberly Gardner – Missouri State House, 77th District and former Assistant Circuit Attorney, City of St. Louis

Protesting: This panel discussed two related issues:

  1. How can protests/civil disobedience be both highly effective and mindful of the community affected? In other words, how can it walk that fine line between being effective (which to some degree necessarily means having a negative impact on the functioning of the community) and not degrading into unjustified public disruption and destruction? What to do if a car begins to force its way through the blockade? If police act aggressively to clear the area? What about media strategies?
  2. How can organizers deal with bad actors among the protesters? Can they prevent the derailing of an effective protest into fiery mayhem with good organizing? How can they disavow the agitator’s actions while also understanding the anger and frustration behind them? What are best practices when dealing with police who respond to the actions of such agitators? These are all especially relevant questions when the protest is against the criminal justice system itself.


  • Dr. Kevin R. Anderson – Associate Professor, Eastern Illinois University
  • Reverend Traci Blackmon – Christ The King United Church of Christ, Florissant
  • Rasheen Aldridge – Director of Young Activists United, and member of the Ferguson Commission
  • Charles L. Mayo – Founder of Men & Mentors and Co-Founde of Feed the Children