I have been thinking about some incidents that happened in our local community this past week.
Protesters showed up at a school board member’s home and coughed in her face. Technically that is assault but the local police department didn’t prosecute the cougher because of an “invitation” to cough.
Another protester showed up outside a high school telling students to “stand up against a tira-ta-natical government” and to resist the recent mask mandate. He was “escorted” off school property and allowed to go on his way.
The same protester got into an altercation with a young man, hit him in the head with a PVC pipe, sent the young man to the hospital for his injuries, and then went drinking afterwards. He has yet to be arrested because the young man “threw the first punch” and the protester claimed self defense despite his using excessive force when he escalated the altercation by introducing a weapon.
Another person in a group I’m in was followed by a truck with several flags showing support for the former president. She didn’t even bother to file a report with the police.
I am compelled to remember Dr Martin Luther King’s words when he defined peace and justice in that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice” and in the absence of justice there can be no real peace. When it seems like local law enforcement agencies seem to look for reasons not to apply the law or to look for creative ways to misapply the law, justice seems to be a far away theory that only exists in legal scholarship or (maybe)in select courtrooms. I submit to you that justice, not the notion of justice but real justice, is for everyday people to be applied equally and not to those who curry favor within the police department or those select few who can afford it in a courtroom.
Now there is just tension. Tension is invisible, but palpable just the same.
Justice is the literal glue that holds our social contract together. We are supposed to understand that there are rules that we didn’t make and we cannot break or else we must face the consequences of our actions. When the social contract is broken, when accountability is selectively applied, society suffers as a whole because there is now a justified lack of trust in the social contract. Again Martin Luther King articulates it perfectly in his 1963 work “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” when he wrote “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” If there were police accountability boards with authority to actually conduct oversight and impose penalties, implement improvements to policing, and ensure there were no undue influences upon, or within, law enforcement organizations then the social contract would be strengthened. Justice would become a real thing to citizens, tension would be lessened, and there would be a true peace imparted to citizens.
Racism hurts everyone. No one mentioned in those incidents were people of color.
Because citizen oversight boards are usually attributed to communities of color, those boards and issues are usually overlooked and dismissed. Because citizen oversight committees are usually attributed to communities of color, they are generally toothless and are there for “a show of outreach” to the community and not to ensure that “protect and serve” becomes policy instead of just a slogan on a car.
Fannie Lou Hamer said it best “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
In 2021, I have to believe she means free from fear, free from sexism, free from Xenophobia, free from all forms of discrimination, and free to enjoy the true peace that comes from the presence of justice.
Are WE free yet?
David H. Julian
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