Author Martin Berger on the Ferguson riots

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As riots broke out this month over the police shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, many observers have commented on the visual similarities between the images of protesters facing off against authorities with the 1960s Civil Rights movement.


Martin Berger, a professor history of art and visual culture at the University of California in Santa Cruz, has done extensive research on the civil rights movement and is the author of Seeing Through Race, a book that explores photography of the era and how the interpretation influenced the event and the fallout. He appeared on CBC News Network recently to weigh in on the unfolding situation.

"I find it particularly interesting the ways in which law enforcement authorities seem blind in which they ways their actions are going to play in the press," he said. "All of us have seen the officers that look so militarized, as if they've come from Iraq or Afghanistan. But I think, in particular, I've been struck by all of the images that show white officers standing with police dogs facing largely African American crowds."

While the pain felt over the loss of Brown was certainly the catalyst for the violence, tensions over economic inequality, racial profiling, have been simmering in Ferguson for years. It's a similar story in communities across the U.S., Berger said.

However, Berger has concerns that a media narrative focusing on alleged cases of police brutality threaten to overshadow meaningful dialogue that could emerge from this situation. It's hard to think of how to address society's structural issues when the images of civilians clashing with police officers are so provocative.

"The political conversation often doesn't make that leap again because the images don't support those more complicated conversations."