Pastor Neil O’Farrell Thinks about Wither Justice
“The American criminal justice system fails to achieve justice, reduce crime, and provide equal protection to Americans regardless of their social class, race, and gender. “ Matthew B. Robinson
As a white man, I own the justice system in America. Until recently I had never looked at it that way, I now realize that I own justice, whether I want to or not. Right now, my ownership of American justice is not something I’m proud of.
So, the good citizens of Ferguson decided after weeks of hearing testimony from dozens of witnesses, looking at countless documents, and deliberating for two weeks—after all of that, they went for the status quo. Michael Brown is dead; Officer Wilson is free and on paid leave; the local politicians (virtually all white) have been vindicated, at least in their own minds; and the rest of us who have an opinion, be we black or white, I guess we know what happened, and I guess we know why it happened.
In my pastoral world, people are indicted every day, whether they are guilty or not. That doesn’t seem fair, but at least it gets you a judge and possibly a jury. Indictment is your punched ticked to the fair-trial world. (We’ll use “wink” at this point as a cynical dodge.)
For right now, Darren Wilson walks.
We know he’s not out of the legal woods by a long shot. But his so-called civic, judicial neighbors have said the controversy was so complicated that it would be best to do what is normal in these situations; that is, give the benefit of the doubt to the white cop over the young, black, unarmed man. The young man now dead and buried, with grieving parents and other loved ones still among us.
If Darren thought Michael looked like a demon, and on that basis fired the shots that killed him, isn’t that in itself a damning, racist motive on its own? (Isn’t “demon” a racially-charged turn of phrase all too familiar to African Americans?)
The thing I keep wondering while I heard the verdict read by the white male prosecutor, who droned on endlessly, is that there is a lot of territory between murder and nothing. I’m no lawyer, but some of the phrases that came to mind included manslaughter, assault with a dangerous weapon, accidental death with prejudice, and misuse of deadly force? I’m sure there is more. For example, might a court consider the very subject of the use of firepower to justify the protection of self?
None of the above ignores potential Justice Department actions (though the grapevine says the Justice Department will do nothing) or subsequent civil actions.
Yet, none of the above potential crimes hinge a whit upon the frame of mind of Darren Wilson, as a murder trial would have. The other illegalities are all judgments that society should be ready to make on its own, particularly when death has been the propitiating cause. For a reason that seems thus far not to have been reported, as far as the prosecutor and grand jury were concerned, it was murder or nothing. I sure believe I have witnessed the result of a misuse of deadly force, manslaughter, and irresponsibility.
Living in my ideal world, I support absolute, radical nonviolence. In this real world I live in, I was not surprised to see looting and fire in the streets. Christian’s call sin the difference between the ideal and the real.
Black Americans must wonder where it ever ends, if it does. Each step forward, from the Emancipation Proclamation to the Civil Rights Act and the Affordable Care Act—all putative advances contain a large dollop of grief and promises unfulfilled.
All the things I’ve been discussing may seem like separate issues, but they are not. They are all part of the soggy, wet blanket they constantly wear. In 2014, even President Obama knows that black and white are anything but equal.
The Ferguson grand jury, I’m sure parsed the law until Darren Wilson was a hero and esteemed public servant, who only in his fervid imagination might see a monster and try to kill it. Except that he did. Truth be known, in a lot of cases, I too try to give the first responders the benefit of the doubt. This is not one of those cases.
We’re talking here about a simple indictment that would have suggested that the local society was grappling with what happened in its midst. We know that a terrible thing happened, and an indictment for something would have given legal credence to what everyone knows.
Darren Wilson doubtlessly would hate wearing the mantle of indicted criminal as a calling card and subhead of a news item. At least he’s still alive.
Instead, a very teachable moment for Ferguson and the nation has instead reconfirmed that race still counts in insidious ways in the manner our communities and governments are run both locally and nationally.
Couldn’t we have written a ticket to the police officer for, at worst, littering the spent cartridge on the pavement, or defacing public property by blood stains? Didn’t the judicial system of St. Louis County have the courage to look at the noxious chasm in their midst by charging Darren Wilson with something?
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