Apologies in advance if this post seems insensitive, but today I heard that the Ferguson grand jury opted not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the August 9 killing of Mike Brown. Last week, in anticipation of this decision, the Missouri governor opted to call in the national guard to deal with possible rioting. It turns out he was right to expect rioting as the city is currently burning.
Before going further I want to state for the record that I hope this demonstration of justifiable anger peters out with as little violence as possible and before heavy-handed state action is undertaken against people resulting in more needless death.
Notice I used the word justifiable there? The anger is justifiable but it is very misplaced and contingent upon an unrealistic expectation; namely that the criminal justice system is or at least should be fair.
There is a parable that comes to mind about an old man who makes the same joke over and over again in front of an audience and they laugh a little less each time. When the laughter subsides completely after the nth telling of the joke, he asks them why, “if they don’t laugh repeatedly for the same joke, do they cry repeatedly for the same tragedy?” I think the truth here is that as many times as we have seen this drama play out again and again, little to no action has been taken to mitigate structural violence, or the institutionalized racism which rises from it.
Speaking more broadly here about the state’s use of violence against its citizenry regardless of skin colour, do we really expect a different outcome than state-sanctioned murder when we have an impoverished and shamed lower class being supervised by an armed constabulary working to preserve the status quo? And, after seeing many of their fellow officers get off after using excessive and/or deadly force, are police officers really even scared to kill an unarmed man any more?
But I digress because this wasn’t meant to be an indictment of the police (we all know how well that would go), but rather a piece of critical advice to those outraged over the verdict: “What did you expect?” We’ve all seen this happen before and we knew it would happen again. So why do you maintain a steadfast devotion to a system that repeatedly lets you down and disappoints ad infinitum?
Personally, looking at things in the broadest sense, I don’t want Darren Wilson to go to jail for killing Mike Brown, but that is only because I think the incarceration paradigm is one of the most barbaric institutions we still have, second perhaps only to war. It makes people more violent and does little or nothing to rehabilitate. And, seeing as Darren Wilson is first and foremost a fellow human being, I don’t want to see him suffer. That said, I can see how the apparent double standard might be, shall we say, irksome?
But again, to those bothered by his lack of culpability I say, what did you expect? And more importantly, what are YOU gonna do differently this time around? We’ve all seen that impotent outbursts of anger like riots are just playing by the establishment’s rules: they start off strong and hopeful of effecting some kind of meaningful change or retribution, but before you know it they have fizzled out because people can no longer sustain that level of righteous indignation (It’s exhausting being angry all the time, trust me). Even worse, the violence justifies, nay, begs for more state heavy-handedness. And what do we think that will lead to? HINT: It won’t lead to more unarmed citizens NOT getting shot by police.
Bottom line: if we really feel raw about this type of impunity for agents of the state (read: cops), we need to withdraw support from the state rather than naively expecting it to police and govern itself in a way that will be fair to us. The minute we allow any matter to be taken up by the state’s courts we can’t reasonably expect a result that won’t be in accordance with state interests. And seeing as the police are agents of the state, is it unreasonable to assume that finding them guilty of murder just might not be in the state’s best interest?
Am I veering into the conspiratorial? Perhaps. But the way I see it, questioning any official narrative or official explanation these days is viewed as conspiratorial. So if I’m not dabbling in that territory I’m just not thinking critically enough.