Midland Daily News, December 14, 2014
In 2007 I published a book entitled, A Journey to Peace through Justice. I chose the word justice because of Pope Paul VI comment, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Today I would not use that word but rather compassion.
Justice is bound up with our legal system in this country and implies judgment, conviction, and punishment in accordance with the law. Chris Stevens brought this home to me in his editorial in the Midland Daily News on November 26, 2014, ““Wrong questions are being asked in Ferguson, Mo., case”.”
Stevens dismissed dialogue and the call to action for change which some people are saying is needed. Furthermore he rejects the comment that we’ve made progress, but obviously we’re not there yet.
Rather he raised several different questions. He asked, “Why did Michael Brown rob the store of cigars….and no one talks about him doing that? Are we supposed to ignore this?” Well, no, we should not ignore this question but the police officer Darren Wilson did not know that Brown was involved in that larceny when he confronted Brown. So it is irrelevant to the shooting of Brown.
“ Why did Brown even entertain the thought of attacking a police officer?” asked Stevens. That is a poor question because we don’t know that Brown attacked Wilson or was even thinking about doing so. The Grand Jury heard testimony that Brown appeared to be surrendering when he approached Wilson.*
Stevens’ third question is at the heart of this column: “ Why didn’t President Obama come out with stronger support of Wilson….? A brief comment such as, ‘Officer Wilson has been cleared of any charges and we must respect that,’ would do wonders for those in law enforcement….” This suggests that the police are right in all cases and justice is served when people obey the police. The Grand Jury had too much conflicting testimony to indict Wilson. They did not declare him innocent.
Stevens also asked, “ Why did the media continually report this solely as a black and white issue?” Here I might wonder that as well, but in the very same article Stevens referred to Brown’s community as one of those “low-income, crime-ridden black communities.”. Stevens too is making it a black issue rather than a low income or crime issue, which affect all people.
Stevens finally asked “Why do we not vilify the violent protesters who damage property and hurt innocent citizens?” This too is a separate issue from the killing of Brown. Stevens then judges the protesters by saying that “they are thugs and have zero respect for others” and “need to be brought to justice.” In the interests of peace making, there is no need to vilify anyone.
Karen Armstong in her book, Great Transformation, reminds us that all the founders of the major religions called us to the Golden Rule. At the heart of the Golden Rule is compassion, the feeling of another’s hurts and wounds as if they are one’s own.
Laws are made and enforced by humans. Both the laws and the people are capable of making mistakes. Sometimes we need to ask questions beyond obedience to the law and ask questions about the law itself and the process of judging the guilt of someone. Justice is not served when a police officer can shoot an unarmed man six times and not be held accountable. Unfortunately similar situations occurred recently in New York, Cleveland, and Phoenix. The U. S. Department of Justice issued a report after 21 months of investigation into Cleveland’s police department that “officers' use of unreasonable force was part of a pattern of behavior that was in some cases endorsed by supervisors.” ** This raises a more serious question: Is there a national pattern in these seemingly independent cases?
Instead of pointing blame at Michael Brown or Darren Wilson, we need to show compassion for both of them who got involved in a tragic incident which was probably not the fault of either one. What if your son was killed by a policeman? Would you immediately thank the policeman for doing his duty? I doubt it.
We all get involved in these kinds of situations and we must too try to avoid the human desire to blame the other. Fortunately most of our incidents do not end in death nor even physical harm. Yet we are called to compassion.
Laws are important for a free and orderly society but laws are not perfect. They too must be questioned, especially when the execution of those laws does not meet the standards of a just society. We must not let the law prevent us from challenging the action of a policeman in the line of duty.
How can we make our laws and their enforcement more compassionate? How can we make changes in our society, culture and laws which will prevent such shooting incidents from occurring in the future?
*Sandhya Somashekhar and Kimbriell Kelly, “Was Michael Brown surrendering or advancing to attack Officer Darren Wilson?”, Washington Post November 29, 2014.
**Kevin Johnson, “DOJ report: Cleveland police use excessive force”, USA Today, December 4, 2014.