Thursday, January 29, 2015

[273] Ferguson insiders discuss First Amendment, civil rights at Feb. 10 MTSU event

MURFREESBORO — A trio of insiders will discuss the challenges of reporting on last summer's Ferguson, Missouri, shooting death and the protests and questions in its aftermath in a free public event set Tuesday, Feb. 10, at Middle Tennessee State University.

“From the Front Lines of Ferguson: Covering the New Civil Rights Movement” is set for 7 p.m. inside Tucker Theatre. A searchable campus parking map is available at

The discussion, presented by the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at MTSU, will examine the First Amendment aspects of the Ferguson case from a front-lines vantage point with the help of St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer/videographer David Carson, St. Louis 21st Ward Alderman Antonio French and USA Today reporter Yamiche Alcindor.

The three also will provide firsthand insights into the media coverage and criminal justice aspects of such a volatile, high-profile news story. Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was fatally shot Aug. 9 by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in the predominantly African-American St. Louis suburb. Protests over the shooting continued for weeks afterward in the Ferguson area, and when a grand jury decided in November not to indict Wilson, protests raged anew and extended around the world. 

The panelists have been in the thick of the Ferguson coverage since its beginnings.

Carson, a Boston native and veteran international photographer, has worked at the Post-Dispatch since 2000. Wearing military-grade body armor and a helmet and carrying a gas mask, cameras, multiple lenses and a full backpack of gear, he was knocked to the ground by a blow to the head from Ferguson protestors during one of their confrontations with police. Carson’s photos of Ferguson have been seen in the Post-Dispatch and in national and international media outlets. 

French, a community activist who is serving his second term as city alderman from his home district, has been part of Ferguson's peacekeeping force as well as one of the most active social media reporters through updates and short videos via his Twitter account. He was arrested for unlawful assembly in the early days of the Ferguson protests and opened a community outreach center after the Brown shooting, only to see it burned down in the protests that followed the grand jury decision.

Alcindor has been a staff reporter for USA Today since 2011. As a member of the breaking national news team, she’s also covered the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and the trial of George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. In Ferguson, her coverage included embedding herself with the St. Louis County Police Department’s Tactical Operations Team to cover the protests and gaining the trust of Brown’s family to get their views on the grand jury decision.

“The Ferguson story in many ways parallels the Freedom Rides during the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, something John Seigenthaler was intimately involved with as a Justice Department aide in the Kennedy administration,” said Pat Embry, director of the Seigenthaler Chair.

As an aide to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Seigenthaler took a lead pipe to the head from a Ku Klux Klansman as he rushed to protect Freedom Riders arriving in Montgomery, Alabama. He later became one of the country’s most passionate First Amendment advocates as editor, publisher and president of The Tennessean and the founding editorial director of USA Today. Seigenthaler died last July at age 86.

MTSU established the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies in 1986 to honor the iconic journalist’s lifelong commitment to free expression. The Seigenthaler Chair supports a variety of activities related to free speech, free press rights and other topics of concern for contemporary journalism, including distinguished visiting professors and visiting lecturers at MTSU, research related to free expression, seminars and meetings dedicated to expressive freedom and hands-on training for student journalists through the Seigenthaler News Service.

“First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, of the press, of the rights to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances all have come into play in Ferguson and elsewhere in the country,” Embry said.

“Police, protestors and the press have an ongoing stake in protecting our civil rights while at the same time preserving the peace.” 

Learn more about MTSU’s John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at

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