I wish I didn’t have to write about this. I really don’t. But after everything that has happened in this country in the last few weeks regarding racism and injustice, it seems almost unavoidable. We read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, in which Dr. King outlines what he views as just versus unjust laws, and how people are obligated to disobey an unjust law. Dr. King writes that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, and that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.” It seems that when we look at what is happening in America today, Dr. King was years ahead of his time, because here in the year 2014, we still don’t have the freedom and equality Dr. King was fighting for in the 1960s.
In what now is known nationally by anyone who remotely follows the news, last week, a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson for his killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. That night, riots erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, and have continued across the country. Another similar event occurred this week, and thought it may not have gained as much national attention, it is equally important. This week, a New York grand jury elected not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo months after he killed Eric Garner, a black man, who was suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes. Sounds eerily similar to the Ferguson case, no? Well it is very similar, considering both incidents involve white cops killing unarmed black men. A difference in the Eric Garner case, however, as Jon Stewart points out, is that in the Michael Brown case, you could at least say that there were conflicting witness testimonies and confusing forensics. In the Eric Garner case, there is a video that blatantly shows officer Daniel Pantaleo illegally applying a chokehold to Garner, even though Garner repeatedly says “I can’t breath.” That’s right, even though there is a legal ban on policemen using chokeholds, and there is video evidence of a policeman using a chokehold, which resulted in a man dying, that officer walks free from even having a trial, while Garner’s family is left with no justice.
In Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he writes to the clergymen that “when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters…” only then will you truly understand what it means to be oppressed due to race. Almost 50 years later, we are still seeing the same things happen between white police officers and black citizens. In lecture, we discussed the relationship between laws and justice, and how laws are institutions of the state. It should then be a responsibility of the state and its actors, which includes grand juries, to enforce the law and administer justice to ALL its people.
America preaches that it is a land of freedom and equality, yet we see here in 2014 that is simply not the case. You can argue all you want that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were killed for other reasons, not racially charged ones. The fact of the matter is white police officers killed two different black men, and neither of the police officers will have to take responsibility for their actions. Not even a trial, where they could play the course of the legal system and be found not guilty. Instead, they won’t even face a trial. Dr. King wrapped up his letter by writing “let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.” Unfortunately, the clouds are still here, and that not too distant tomorrow is still waiting for another day.