I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s happening in Ferguson, MO. There has been tremendous anxiety waiting for the wheels of justice to grind. Even as I write this there has not yet been a grand jury decision made (or maybe the decision has been made but not released). The people of the community are anxious.
Some are anticipating a decision that does not indict the police officer. The expectation from many segments of society is that this decision will be met with expressions of anger, disappointment and even violence by the African American community and many others who believe that an indictment represents the first step towards justice.
Even if peaceful, any public expression of anger or disappointment will be met by a police force that is prepared for repression. Even if there is no intention to be repressive, just arming the police for riots expresses an expectation, which is likely to then occur. If the police think that some of the protesters are likely to be violent, they are more likely to respond to repress potential violence, even if the people who experience the repressive force were not the instigators or perpetrators of violence.
Others are expecting an indictment, which would be met with cautious celebration by some communities. That celebration is likely to also be met with similar models of force and resistance by the local law enforcement. Even if the Governor and many local leaders are calling for peace and respect, the state and local governments are arming for violence.
Regardless of the direction of the indictment, the community will not get what it needs. The indictment will place the fate of the police officer in the hands of a justice system that has been one of the primary vehicles for the oppression and marginalization for African Americans, Latina/Hispanic, and poor. Even if, the legal process runs its course and even if the police officer is tried and found culpable for wrongful death, the community will not have what it wants. The community will likely be more divided and more suspicious of others.
The problem is this: justice should be about the process of establishing equitable relationships. Equity exists when the systems and relationship in a community operate such that no demographic characteristic is a predictor of success, failure, triumph, tragedy, health, length or quality of life. Establishing this type of community is not the responsibility of the courts. The justice system enforces the agreements that have already been made and codified as law. So it turns out we are asking the wrong people to do the right thing.
Even if everyone does their job in a fair and unbiased way, because certain communities did not experience equitable participation in the making of the rules in the first instance, enforcement of those rules is not likely to result in justice, meaning right relationships, or equity.
When the smoke has cleared, I do hope there will be opportunities and energy for all the people in Ferguson and many other places around the country to participate in the type of creative and embodied dialogue/ engagement that allows them to create a new narrative for a just and equitable society. Then in the future, once the systems are established equitably with appropriate transparencies and accountabilities, even if someone has a bad intent, it is more likely that outcomes will be just and equitable.
In the Hebrew Bible there is a passage where the Psalmist declares: There is a place where Truth and Mercy have met; where Justice and Peace will kiss. Even though the current justice system is not that place, I pray that the residents of Ferguson and greater St. Louis metro can work to create such a place.