Civil unrest over shootings of black men, police: U-M experts can comment

July 8, 2016
Contact: Nardy Baeza Bickel


University of Michigan experts are available to discuss the most recent shootings of two black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota and the shooting of police officers in Dallas.

Christian Davenport, professor of political science and faculty associate in the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research, can discuss police use of force, the policing of protests and the perception of the police, political violence and human rights violations, as well as protest as a means for achieving social justice.

“All forms of violence should be deemed unacceptable,” he said. “The objective should be to understand who is doing what as well as why and then work from there towards remedying the situation. Part of this process is to understand that all individuals involved in using violence have a reason that they believe is reasonable. The key toward ending all outbursts is to eliminate this way of thinking.”


Josh Pasek is an assistant professor of communication studies and co-author of the study Racism in the 2012 Elections.

“Black and white Americans hold radically different views about how police officers treat the two groups,” he said. “These perceptions will be difficult to reconcile. Our surveys show that they are linked to very different experiences both in everyday prejudice and in interactions with law enforcement. They also profoundly shape the different ways that blacks and whites interpret incidents, such as those of the last few days.”

Contact: 484-557-4594

Michael Heaney, assistant professor of organizational studies and political science, examines the organizational dimensions of American politics. He is an expert on protest and social movements, and can discuss how these events link to the Black Lives Matters movement, as well as the general, rising level of contention in the country.

“The escalation of protest and violence is a product of people’s increasing frustration that the political system is not solving the most important problems that our country faces,” he said.

Contact: 202-236-3360,

Reuben Jonathan Miller is an assistant professor of social work, faculty associate in the Population Studies Center at the Institute for Social Research and faculty affiliate in Afroamerican and African studies. His research focuses on the lives of prisoners and former prisoners and how carceral expansion has transformed the urban landscape.

In a Huffington Post opinion piece published this week, he wrote: “A man was killed by the police on Tuesday. Another was killed last night….I’m a social scientist who studies crime, so I care deeply about these things. But if I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned that some people see what they want to see. Facts, for many in power, matter very little.

“However, some facts cannot be ignored. There is no Ferguson effect. Black on black crime is not a thing. Over 1,800 people have been exonerated after spending, on average, nine years in prison. And two men have been killed by the police in the time that it took me to write this article.”

Contact: 312-208-0698,

Heather Thompson, professor of Afroamerican and African studies and a researcher at U-M’s Population Studies Center at the Institute for Social Research, has conducted research on the history of mass incarceration and its impact.

In a piece to be published in the Huffington Post, she writes: “The nation is now at a crossroads. Only one question now really matters. Will this new level of collective trauma—now suffered so acutely not only by many hundreds of black families in America, but also by law enforcement families in cities such as Dallas—lead to real change in this country, or will this national crisis just deepen?”


Marc Zimmerman is a professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health and director of the CDC-funded Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center, which focuses on violence prevention and positive youth development, resiliency and empowerment.

He conducts research on violence and delinquency among urban African-American adolescents, and on attitudes about gun violence among public health, medical and law professionals. He also directs the Prevention Research Center of Michigan.

“The causes of racial disparities for homicide in the U.S. pervade all aspects of our society,” he said. “The police shootings are but one manifestation, albeit a particularly public one, of the many ways people of color are more likely than white people to be victims of homicide and violence more generally.”

Contact: 734-647-0224,

Austin McCoy is a postdoctoral student of U.S. history and can discuss the issues of police violence and the black lives matter movement.

“The killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling remind us that we can’t rest on our laurels in the movement for police reform and the struggle for racial justice,” he said. “Last night’s deaths of Dallas police officers also reminds us of the importance of pursuing change through nonviolent means.”

Contact: 419-564-1564,

Eugene Rogers is associate director of choirs and professor of conducting at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. He is known for choosing repertoire addressing social justice, most recently premiering “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed” at U-M as director of the Men’s Glee Club. The lyrics of “Seven Last Words” reflect the dying words of seven unarmed black men that were killed by authority figures. He can speak about addressing social justice as an educator, and encouraging action, understanding and change through artistic expression.

“The pain and hopelessness we are experiencing at times feels greater than words are able to capture,” he said. “Moving forward requires that we all agree on the value of human life regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, vocation or religion. I believe that we should all take time to mourn, but also to quickly use our hurt to work toward healing through reconciliation, education, action and conversation.”

Contact: 313-478-3444,

Matthew Countryman, is an assistant professor of history and American culture, and an expert on 20th century history, postwar liberalism, African-American social movements and the American Left.

Contact: 734-355-0891,

Tom Ivacko is an administrator of the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the Ford School for Public Policy and oversees the Michigan Public Policy Survey. He recently surveyed Michigan’s local leaders about their concerns about civil unrest in the wake of police shootings.

“While it’s not widespread, there are local leaders in Michigan who are concerned about potential civil unrest due to inappropriate police use of force,” he said. “This issue could blow up in Michigan, too, at any time.”

Related: Large Michigan cities concerned about potential civil unrest

Contact: 734-834-4169,

Alison Davis-Blake is a professor of management and organizations at the Ross School of Business and an expert on strategic human resource management and organizational design for effective management of human capital. She can talk about how managers can help employees cope with traumatic events.

“In the aftermath of tragedy, employees will experience a range of emotions, often powerful emotions that can and do affect workplace relationships and interactions,” she said. “Managers can help by giving employees permission to talk about their thoughts and feelings about events. The single most important way to do this is to talk about how you as a leader are feeling—you do not need to be lengthy or eloquent, you simply need to acknowledge the impact of events on you and encourage employees to share their own thoughts and feelings, perhaps through formal town halls, discussion groups, or chat rooms as appropriate.

“Traumatic events undermine individuals’ sense of safety and stability. Emphasize that your organization is a safe place to be, not only physically, if that is relevant, but, more importantly, psychologically. Address physical safety concerns immediately. Remind employees of core values that your organization has around respect for individuals and caring for others.”

More information

Contact: 734-763-3818,