UMN Law School


Ferguson as a Case Study in Persuasion: The Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice




Our society’s ability to have productive dialogues about important social issues is at a nadir. We don’t know how to productively disagree with each other, and we certainly don’t know how to persuade. This conference seeks to engage scholars and practitioners with varying experiences and backgrounds in a discussion of their attempts to persuade and their views as to what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Our launching point is the Ferguson reports, prepared and presented in a context where the findings were sure to be strongly challenged by people with contrary prior beliefs and an enormous amount at stake in maintaining those beliefs. This symposium examines those reports, using them as a case study in how people are, or are not, persuaded regarding high profile incidents that raise complex and sensitive societal issues. Since the events in Ferguson occurred, the American public has been engaged in an important national dialogue about policing practices, race, community trust, and public safety. The dialogue is affected, and too often impeded, by people’s assumptions and biases; both the identification of problems, and the development of solutions, are adversely affected.

Starting with a discussion of the Ferguson reports by the authors of the reports, we will then explore the reactions they elicited. Next, we will consider the “science” of persuasion, as well as attempts, successes, and failures at persuasion in other contexts from the perspective of those involved in persuading and being persuaded in legal and public arenas. The symposium should demonstrate that taking a more critical perspective about one’s own assumptions and biases (about, among other things, race, class, and the workings of the police and other governmental institutions) is both warranted and productive.

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