Day 43: Peace, Justice, and The Police

Aerial Chicago with harvest moon, © 2016 Susan Barsy

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.

4 responses

  1. Susan-as the voice of reason, thoughtfulness, and pragmatism in politics and governance, I cannot wait to hear what you have to say about tonight’s debate. I agree with everything you have said about Peace, Justice and the Police. Your piece puts into words my uneasy thoughts about current events. Thank you.

    • Michele, thank you so much for the kind words! What bothers me about Hillary Clinton is the sense of complacency she radiates. As someone living in a city where many African-Americans are, in fact, afraid to leave their houses or allow their children to play outside, I found Donald Trump’s forthright criticism of how government has failed them refreshing. I think we ‘smart folks’ under-estimate how worried people with lesser education and means are about what they will do for work in the future. Secretary Clinton isn’t addressing this. She seems reluctant to admit that anything is wrong, and she has no passion for improvement. In Illinois, Democratic mismanagement is taking its toll on the quality of life in this state. It is really unfortunate. Reducing violence and restoring public safety is a pivotal issue here. She really had nothing to say. I feel like saying to her, “Where’s the beef?”

    • Thank you Susan. I will need to look at her through this prism and listen to her words more closely from that perspective. I thought she was giving us the beef. So I guess Donald Trump appeals to that fear and insecurity. But where is his beef? I think he creates more fear and division and while the government has failed black people what does he propose to do for help? DT will not propose anything to help the plight of the inner city urban issues except that his bar or social club will not prohibit African Americans or Muslims or Chinese. He says this is a successful social experiment.

    • The Department of Justice, through its investigations, is bringing to light many of the problems riddling law enforcement in specific cities. I hope the DOJ can continue to be a force for reform. Otherwise, I wonder whether police could adopt different protocols that might at least preserve the lives of the people caught up in these encounters. In addition, the mechanisms for firing bad cops need to be stronger.

      Hillary is a good person who at this point strikes me as very tired. Her comments on this particular issue on the night of the debate seemed vague and formulaic. Something about ‘more trust’ was all I heard.

      Our city is very segregated, and large areas of it are very dangerous. If I were African American, I am not sure whether I would find much to attract me to either of the two chief candidates.