The spectacle of injustice can powerfully inflame beholders; its power is not statistical. Many Americans have lately become convinced of the need to reform urban policing, as video and other media document the fate of a string of black victims—for so even suspected criminals must be called—whom police officers have killed (or neglected to death) while ostensibly doing their jobs.
Sandra Bland, Laquan MacDonald, Terence Crutcher, Freddy Gray, Philando Castille, Keith Lamont Scott, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling: each of these controversial casualties was different, yet all were the same in leaving behind doubt whether the death of the victim was warranted or necessary.
In each case, officers’ behavior cut off the path to justice, denying a process due both the fallen individual and society by right. Justice satisfies our need for fairness by examining and weighing conflicting claims. It dignifies all parties to a conflict, by allowing them to tell their respective stories in a court of law. Yet in this slew of cases, officers’ manner of policing forestalled an orderly and dignifying process, supplanting it with reactionary violence and answering ostensible offenses with graver misdeeds.
Is it any wonder that many spectators across the country are uncomfortable, even outraged? Or that the ‘Black Lives Matter’ people are protesting and demanding us to consider, ‘Did that black brother really have to die?’ Whether silent or raging, many Americans sense that these fatalities jar with the principle of presumption of innocence. When a person who was said to have had a gun or committed a crime dies at the hands of the police, the police and public end up at odds over questions of justice that should have been determined in a court of law.
Local police exist to promote order and protect citizens from harm. Their proper role is ‘to bring criminals to justice,’ not to administer an appalling sort of ‘street justice’ themselves. Because anger springs from injustice, real or perceived, peace will be difficult to achieve until less draconian methods fill the arsenals of police.
As Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump meet to debate tonight, their takes on this disturbing and difficult topic may well influence the outcome of the campaign.
Image: Aerial of Chicago at night, with harvest moon.
© 2016 Susan Barsy.