Here we go again
It feels like déjà vu. Just last week we learned that Darren Wilson, the cop who killed Mike Brown, would not be indicted by a grand jury for causing the death of the unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri. The decision by the grand jury to not indict in that matter spurred uprisings and protests in Ferguson and across the nation. Not only did protesters take to the streets, but they took to the malls and social media to declare a nationwide #boycottblackfriday movement, also called #handsupdontshop.
Photo Credit: Kafahni Nkrumah, Protests in Ferguson, Missouri
Even video evidence is not enough
Many across the nation were still mourning the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, when suddenly the news hit yesterday that the officer responsible for the death of another unarmed black man in New York, Eric Garner, would also fail to be indicted by a grand jury. This decision sparked massive protests in New York. What was particularly shocking about the grand jury's decision to not indict the officer, who literally choked Eric Garner to death, was the fact that the entire episode was caught on video by a passerby. In the video, one can watch Eric Garner being accosted by multiple police officers for apparently selling cigarettes without a license, and ultimately placed in a chokehold and brought to the ground. In the scene, Garner repeatedly tells the officers that he cannot breathe. Rather than release him and administer CPR, Mr. Garner, a husband and father of six, is literally choked to death. It is beyond disturbing to witness this type of violence inflicted upon an unarmed man in broad daylight by police.
Is the state sanctioning the deaths of black men and boys?
Garner's death occurred in a rapid succession of multiple deaths of unarmed African American men and boys throughout the United States who died at the hands of law enforcement. In every instance to date, we have yet to see officers being held accountable for the deaths of these men and boys. Somehow, officers who kill unarmed men are able to escape prosecution and accountability for their actions. The message is literally being sent that the state will sanction the killing of these boys and men, without any serious repercussions, to boot. The families and communities that these men and boys leave behind are left to grieve and mourn and to wonder how a system that claims to be effective at rendering justice could miss the mark so obviously in the cases of the boys and men in question.
Danger of annihilation
As a black mother, civil rights attorney, and woman of faith, it literally feels as though black men are in danger of annihilation in American society and that laws are being misapplied in ways that cause a perversion of justice, rather than true justice. Something is terribly wrong in a society that can sit back and witness a death before our eyes on video and social media and then be told that the actions of the officer in question were justified under the law. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal."
Laws can be used to oppress
In the midst of the gross miscarriages of justice that are taking place across this country, there remains a nation that continues to be divided along racial and socio-economic lines. The laws and policies that have been established were grounded in a system of white supremacy. Yes, white supremacy. It is something that we do not like to talk about and yet it permeates nearly every aspect of society's major institutions, including the systems of justice, education, economics, and politics, to name a few. Since we have generally been taught revisionists' history in this country, we are often not aware of (or choose to forget) the ways in which our laws were used to oppress, denigrate, disenfranchise, punish, and execute those who represented marginalized racial and ethnic groups, along with poor whites; and to keep those groups on the bottom rungs of society's ladder.
The wealthy landholding class that had the power to create laws and shape policies for their own benefit is not unlike those who hold much of the power in today's society. In exchange for a few crumbs from their table, many of us have been enticed to remain silent in the face of oppression and at least semi-comfortable with the status quo. Our silence has been bought and paid for at a high price: Namely, the sacrifice of the lives of black men and boys, whose value we have been taught to diminish through constant brainwashing that says these men are criminals, less intelligent, and less than human.
A new system of slavery is born
The ongoing conditioning we are subjected to allows us to see their pain and suffering and to look the other way. This conditioning is similar to the ways in which the master class viewed those they enslaved, and even rationalized that they were less than human, or 3/5ths of a person in the Constitution. It is the same type of conditioning that caused the powers that be to enact the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that included language that purportedly abolished slavery, and yet kept the door open for enslavement through the criminal justice system. Indeed, the criminal laws were changed in most southern states following the end of chattel slavery in 1865 to make standard behavior by black men a crime. Since black men could no longer be legally sold as property, a new system built on the criminalization and racial stereotyping of these men was born. Thus, black men who were doing routine things like standing on the sidewalk, or were unemployed, or talking too loud, or spitting on the sidewalk, or hanging out at night, were subjected to criminal punishment, and in many cases breathed their last breath in the criminal justice system, due to the inhumane and unsanitary conditions they experienced.
In today's society, we are again witnessing the diabolical ways in which the criminal justice system is being used to enslave black men and boys through dehumanizing contacts with law enforcement, over-policing in poor communities of color, and the uneven application of laws in cases involving black men, such as low level drug arrests, vagrancy, loitering, spitting on sidewalks, or in Eric Garner's case, selling cigarettes without a license. Whether we are in the place to acknowledge it or not, history is repeating itself, and black men and boys once again face dehumanizing, abusive treatment, at the hands of some law enforcement officers, with very little hope of obtaining justice from those who oppress and abuse them.
Law without justice is meaningless
As someone who has studied the law and loves the law, I am cognizant of the fact that the law can be used to propagate good or evil. Further, I recognize that as important as law is to our society, without justice, it is meaningless.