What we must do about the inability of the justice system
There are obvious reasons in the USA right now for people to be questioning the authority of the justice system and the conditions of racial inequality.
- racism is rampant in the USA.
- the brutalizing and killing of black and brown citizens is racially motivated.
- failure to prosecute the murderers of black and brown men exposes a fundamental flaw in the US justice system.
However, the fundamental flaw that is causing the failures of justice is not being talked about.
Fear is what gets officers off the hook. If a police officer fears for their life, they are granted the permission to protect their life with lethal force. The problem—fear is a subjective state. There is nothing inherently wrong with subjective states, pleasure, joy, sadness, etc. are all important to the human experience. However, subjective states are by definition personal and untouchable from an objective perspective; which is where the justice system lives.
The problem with fear justifying the use of lethal force is a problem of the impasse between objectivity and subjectivity. The prosecutors (and Grand Juries) must show beyond reasonable doubt that the officer used lethal force without fearing for their life. The tools prosecutors have in the courtroom are objective claims and facts about the occurrence. The one thing that cannot be objectively proven, examined, or even questioned is the private subjective mental state of the police officer. They can only ask the officer if they felt fearful for their life, and the court is confined to accept that testimony as truth. The justice system cannot prove that the officer did not fear for their life, and so they cannot prosecute, or even bring them up on charges.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re correct, it is racism that makes police officers, particularly white ones, as well as white citizens across the USA unreasonably fearful of black and brown men. Racism has everything to do with the killing of men-of-color in the USA. We just shouldn’t blame the Grand Juries and DAs for their inability to prosecute their murderers. It is literally outside of their scope. And, we want the justice system to be objective. The alternative would be much worse in such a horrifyingly racist society.
We must wonder, how do we stop the murder of black and brown men by police in the USA if we cannot prosecute them?
We must actively seek political change to take away (or severely limit) the capacity of police officers to lethally defend themselves when they are fearful. We also must acknowledge that the militarization of police goes beyond armory. The police, more and more frequently, bring military attitudes of ‘kill or be killed’ to a job when they are meant to serve and protect. A vast disarming, reequipping, and retraining of police forces in the USA is needed immediately.
Racism is deep rooted in the USA. Fear of black and brown men is a product of hundreds of years of racism, racist propaganda, racist construction of cities, racist laws, and the still current racist portrayal of men-of-color in the media. We must counter the racist history and messages that cause fear. We must point out explicit and implicit racism. We must speak anti-racist messages. We must proclaim the worth of people-of-color. We must occupy spaces with the marginalized. We must listen as the oppressed express heartfelt grief and anger.
The justice system will never be able to prosecute fear, and we are a long way from ending racist based fear, but we can keep that fear from ending in murder.Are you looking for social solutions to social problems? Sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter here.Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr