Within the last two weeks, much of the African American community has been thrown into abject pain yet again. The police officer who was seen shooting Philando Castile, killing him in front of his girlfriend and four-year-old daughter, was acquitted. Four African American members of the LGBTQ community, who marched in the PRIDE parade in Columbus, Ohio and who felt the burden of their race as well as their sexuality, decided to protest the Castile ruling by calling for seven minutes of silence – and the result is that they were arrested as whites looked on, appearing to be cheering their fate. And then the jury in the trial of the former University of Cincinnati police officer who shot and killed Sam Dubose decided it could not decide if that officer was guilty of any crime, and a second mistrial was declared.
The pain of always being denied justice is almost too much to bear.
While there will be and have been protests against the injustice meted out in cases involving police officers killing black and brown people, protesting is not enough. The powers that be of and in this country have learned to shut out the chants and have stopped listening to the demands. They know they are in control, and they are fairly confident that no amount of direct actions carried out will change the script.
If we understand the “justice” system, we can see that perhaps they have a point. Though the Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees that American citizens have a right to a “speedy and public trial by an impartial jury,” that right has been denied to African Americans since this country’s inception. And though the Eighth Amendment guaranteed the right to be protected from excessive bail and fines being imposed upon American citizens, as well as guaranteeing that we should be protected from cruel and unusual punishment, that right, too, has often eluded African Americans and Hispanics, and poor people in general, regardless of their race.
The truth is, we have a problem in these United States. The justice system is rigged, to use one of this administration’s words heard throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. It is rigged to protect police officers and to insure that black and brown people lose in cases involving them and police officers.
The injustice begins with the grand jury. Those two words are powerful; they suggest that there is a mechanism in place that insures justice. Yet, according to MSNBC anchor Joy Ann Reid, that is not the case. Reid served two weeks on a grand jury this past spring and in the aftermath of the Castile case, wrote about it in an article entitled “Philando Castile and this Savage System.”
According to Reid, accusations brought by black and brown people against police officers are almost sure to be knocked down by grand juries, which, she writes, have been constructed to protect police officers at all cost. Those who challenge the rightness of that unspoken understanding are many times just booted off the grand jury, she writes. Many times, those being charged by police after an altercation do not testify (a fact with which Reid strongly takes issue) but police officers are invited to give their side of the story, and too often, all the grand jury hears are the voices of the police officers who have committed an offense and the prosecutors who appear, to be in place primarily to protect what the officers do, regardless of how obvious it might appear that they have seriously abrogated the rule of law.
Black and brown people expect justice, because all humans believe that justice is a right. More than that, it is a need. At the heart of the problem, however, is a belief, based on white supremacy, that black and brown people are not, in fact, entitled to justice because they are less than human. That belief is a mainstay of white supremacist ideology and has been passed down for literally hundreds of years. We may live in the 21st century, but we walk with views on race which began in this country in the 17th century with the Puritans. Those views have been nurtured and advanced, and have only gotten more virulent over the years.
The system is rigged against people of color (against women, people of different religions and poor people as well) The founders of this great nation were clear in their belief that black and brown people did not deserve justice and believed that to give them justice would go against the will of God. White supremacy was preached and taught in the North before it ever hit the South. The objectification, dehumanization and criminalization of black people is as much a part of the American ethos as is the Constitution itself.
Unless and until something is done to change the criminal justice system, with grand juries in place to protect police officers, nothing is going to change. More African Americans will be shot and killed by police officers who know the justice system will protect them. And unless and until trials of black and brown people are really outfitted with juries “of their peers,” and not with white people who carry such deep implicit bias that it is impossible to see or hear black people as, in fact, people, who deserve justice, nothing will change.
The powers that be are counting on that.