“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
This post isn't directly in regards to Ferguson, but the debacle that has ensued has inspired it. On the one side, those who believe that Michael Brown did not need to be killed have cried out for justice. But the cry is for justice in a particular direction, that is to say they want justice for Michael Brown. On the other hand, some, like Sean Hannity of Fox News, have cried out for justice as well, but they are also crying for justice in a particular direction; they want justice for Officer Wilson. The underlying implication of these cries is that getting justice for one person means not getting justice for the other. Is this how we ought to understand justice? Perhaps Scripture can help.
Throughout Scripture justice and righteousness are frequently used together, for instance in Psalm 33:5 it says that God loves both justice and righteousness. These two concepts are closely related, and they both seem to be hard wired into the human spirit. This is known by our own experience as well as Scripture. Although humanity's idea of justice has been impacted by sin, it is clear that the general idea of justice is present in all people. The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 2:15 that God's law is written on people's heart. Law and justice are not the same thing, but they are interdependent. So what is justice? Leviticus 19:36 gives us a clue, it says, "You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt." The idea here is that the weights used would be accurate in their measurement, unbiased toward the seller and the buyer. In the realm of legal justice, law represents righteousness and functions as the weight by which a person(s) is measured.
Justice is not achieved only in the measurement of righteousness. In order for justice to be achieved an appropriate consequence or payment must be applied. This idea is what is being referenced in Exodus 21:23-25, "But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." When there is a victim, there must be appropriate punishment towards the perpetrator and appropriate reparations made to the victim; only then is justice achieved.
There are a couple of things absent in the discussion above. First, there is the absence of emotion. Nowhere in Scripture, that I can find, are the emotions considered in the determination of justice. Whether a person "feels" that justice was done is very different from whether justice was actually done. Second, justice for one person is not a negation of justice for another. In other words, justice is about a passionless evaluation of the facts and appropriate judgment executed based on those facts. When justice is achieved all reparations are made and all crimes are paid for.
Understanding justice isn't only about how people interact in a just way, it is foundational for understanding the gospel. God loves justice He cannot allow for injustice; eventually, justice will be achieved. This will not be achieved until eschaton, but the groundwork of the cross has been laid down. The price for sin has been paid satisfying God's demand for justice. For those who accept the gift of salvation they are declared righteous because justice has been satisfied.
In the mean time we have an imperfect justice system established and executed by imperfect people. Nevertheless, when we evaluate whether justice was done in any situation these are the principals we ought to use in our evaluation.
Over and over again I hear people insisting that the Grand Jury should have indicted Officer Wilson in Ferguson so there could be a public, transparent, jury trial. This is a gross misunderstanding of how the justice system is designed. Did you ever think that there might be a good reason for the secrecy of grand jury trials? Did you ask why the system is structure the way it is? My guess is, you didn't. The truth is that you and I have no right to make such demands. Officer Wilson didn't shoot you and he didn't shoot me. He didn't shoot all black people and he doesn't represent all white people. This is not about the "value of black lives" as I have heard some claim. This is about whether or not Officer Wilson was justified in shooting and killing Michael Brown. That's it, nothing more!!
Grand jury trials are held in secret for some really good reasons. One of those reasons is to protect the integrity of the system. If Wilson was indicted and all the evidence presented to the grand jury was public, it would be very difficult to find a jury that could be unbiased, especially because of the different standards for evidence in a jury trial. Furthermore, since there is no defense team questioning the evidence, the public would only see one side of the story. Another reason for the secrecy of a grand jury trial is to protect the reputation of defendant. You might be tempted to think this is not a big deal, but think about it a little more. If the defendant is not guilty the evidence that was made public could severely damage that person's ability to earn a living or be a citizen in good standing. Remember, there is no defense team presenting evidence, so it is likely that if it was public the defendant's reputation would suffer significant damage.
It is also true that you and I don't have a right to demand a grand jury indictment. We don't have a right to see the evidence and we don't have a right to send a man to trial just so our curiosities can be satisfied. There is no good reason, in this case, to think that the justice system is broken! A jury looked at the evidence as presented by the prosecution without a defense team to cast doubt on the evidence or present their own evidence and that jury decided there was not enough evidence for the case to go to trial. A one sided presentation of the evidence couldn't convince 12 people from the general public to send the case to trial, but a bunch of people who have not seen the evidence, most of whom live hundreds and thousands of miles away, believe they can do a better job of making that decision than the people who served on that jury, saw all the evidence, and received legal instruction. Can you see the irony in this? You and I do not have a right to see that evidence or hear that testimony. We certainly don't have the right to send Officer wilson to trial and risk that all the media hype and pressure from race baiters like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and others might taint a future jury to the point that they might make an unjust decision and send an innocent man to prison. We do not have a right to have our morbid curiosities satisfied when the cost is potentially that great.
There are parts of the justice system that we, as a people, must simply trust. While it is true that the justice system sometimes fails, it is infrequent. However, some people have been led to believe that it is failing or has failed when, in fact, it has not. Most of the time, it is media hype and biased, self-appointed pundits who cast doubt prematurely or inappropriately. Some times this is done intentionally in order to manipulate the outcome. I believe that when people like Al Sharpton are involved, it is almost always intended to manipulate the system. If there is sufficient evidence to doubt that the system worked, then we certainly should question it, but there does not, in my opinion, seem to be sufficient evidence to doubt that it worked in this case.
It boils down to this, you and I don't have the right to see the evidence. One could argue that the Brown family or Daren Wilson does, maybe, but not you and I. The system isn't broken, in this case, it is working as intended in order to protect Daren Wilson who is innocent until proven guilty. That means any damage that can be avoided should be avoided in order to protect not only his person, but his reputation and the integrity of his life.
Last night a Grand Jury declared Officer Wilson was innocent of all charges related to him shooting and killing Michael Brown. If you watched any news, you know that all hell broke loose in Ferguson. Buildings were set on fire, guns were being shot, the FAA stopped all flights over Ferguson, windows were smashed and businesses were looted. No doubt this will spur on debate and bad rhetoric just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. No doubt this will cause more than a few families to have some heated conversation over turkey and mashed potatoes. One thing should be clear, this isn't about justice, at least not for Michael Brown.
Disclaimer, I don't live in the south and I want to recognize that there may be a significant cultural aspect of this that I am unfamiliar with because I grew up in Minnesota and I now live in Colorado. However, when one considers the facts of the case, the message of the Brown family, and contrasts that with rioting and looting, it becomes abundantly clear that this isn't really about justice.
I am sure others will lay out a detailed review of the evidence in the case, but the grand jury had access to all the relevant evidence and those 12 people said there was no reasonable doubt that Officer Wilson was justified in taking Michael Browns life according to the laws on the books. Furthermore, the protests were being planned long before the grand jury made known their decision. The outcome didn't matter, they were going to riot anyway, even though the Brown family asked people not to riot, loot, and so on.
If it is not about justice, what is it about? This is a much more complicated question. For some it is just an excuse to be lawless. For others this may be the result of pent up frustration because of real or perceived injustices in the past. Some probably just like to watch the world burn.
In the end, this kind of behavior is not civil disobedience, its an excuse to loot, vandalize, and who knows what else. This kind of behavior would disgust Martin Luther King Jr. If justice is what people seek, then a careful look at the evidence before rushing to judgment is what is warranted. Planning protests and riots before the evidence has been released is irresponsible. If there is a systemic problem in the south that is not present in the north or west crying foul where there doesn't seem to be one will make things worse not better.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.