God's Justice and the Ferguson Grand Jury Decision: A POC Perspective
As People of Color, we are used to unjust laws. We are used to individuals and institutions perpetrating injustice against us and getting away with it because the laws were not written with us in mind.
We’re used to the Supreme Court telling us that it’s regrettable, but entirely legal, for Chicano schools in Texas to be underfunded vis-à-vis their white counterparts because education is not a “fundamental right” (see, San Antonio v. Rodriguez (1973): http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/411/1).
We’re used to courts telling us that it’s ok to murder Asian Americans in a racist rage and get away with a slap on the wrist (read more about the Vincent Chin case (1982) here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/opinion/why-vincent-chin-matters.html?_r=0).
We’re used to the Supreme Court striking down key parts of the Voting Rights Act because it doesn’t believe that racism is a big problem in the South anymore (2013). (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/us/supreme-court-ruling.html?pagewanted=all).
We’re used to the Supreme Court saying that it’s ok for white voters to pass racially-motivated laws which ban affirmative action (see, Schuette (2014): http://www.scotusblog.com/2014/04/divided-court-upholds-michigans-ban-on-affirmative-action-in-plain-english/).
And, we’re used to courts saying that it’s ok for police to kill our unarmed children without any legal consequences. That’s the message that the grand jury’s decision in the Michael Brown case sends to millions of Black and Brown mothers and fathers in the United States.
Our current laws make it almost impossible to indict a cop for wrongfully murdering someone (See this excellent article by Chase Madar titled, “Why It’s Impossible to Indict a Cop.” http://www.thenation.com/article/190937/why-its-impossible-indict-cop#. My analysis here is drawn from Madar.).
The 1985 and 1989 Supreme Court cases of Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor make it so. According to the standards established by these cases, an officer’s use of deadly force must be “objectively reasonable” in order to be found legal. Because courts typically defer to an officer’s subjective personal assessment of a situation in determining reasonable objectivity, police almost always get off the hook. According to U.C. Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, recent Supreme Court rulings make it almost impossible to prosecute police for civil rights violations (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/08/27/opinion/how-the-supreme-court-protects-bad-cops.html?_r=0).
Many commentators on the grand jury decision say that Officer Darren Wilson was innocent according to the law. To this, I say, “That’s exactly the point.” Together with St. Augustine, I say, “An unjust law is no law at all.”
(It’s also important to note that important mistakes may have been made in the investigation of the Michael Brown murder, as well: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/25/ferguson-grand-jury-evidence-mistakes_n_6220814.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000048&ir=Latino+Voices)
Our Lord called out many unjust laws of His day, too. He called out human rules and legal traditions which violated the law of God:
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Mark 7:6-7
“Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” Mark 7:13
“The LORD demands accurate scales and balances; He sets the standards for fairness. A king detests wrongdoing, for his rule is built on justice.” Proverbs 16:11
The United States has many human laws and rules which violate God’s laws of justice for immigrants, the poor, and the marginalized. The grand jury decision in Ferguson shows us very clearly that our current laws governing the use of lethal force by police are out of step with God’s demands for justice. They are one more example of “merely human rules” which “nullify the word of God” for the sake our American tradition of jurisprudence.