If we abandon the idea that Lady Justice is blind and insist she see things as we demand, one day someone with more influence will bend her vision against us. Justice must be allowed to seek truth no matter the sway of public opinion.
In 1987, as a graduating student from university, I was held up at gun point and shot with a 12-gauge shot gun. I barely escaped with my life and was fortunate to only lose my right leg from the gun shot. I know violence, and I know what it feels like to want criminal justice. In fact, after the first trial, the black 18-year-old gang member was not convicted despite eyewitnesses and positive identifications. Criminal justice is not a science but rather is meted out by imperfect people. In my case, law enforcement brought about justice for me. Because of their diligence, the shooter turned himself in and was ultimately convicted in a second trial. Lady Justice almost missed the mark in my case, but she ultimately delivered her just reward. Twenty-five years to life.
In the case of Eric Garner, we are saddened by what seems to be a miscarriage of justice. Garner, 43, was taken down to the concrete by a white New York police officer with a chokehold for the illegal sale of cigarettes in Staten Island, New York. To the laymen, the officer used excessive force. Garner yelled repeatedly, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” during the arrest. He died leaving behind a wife and children; the coroner ruled his death a homicide, the New York Times reported. The grand jury failed to indict Officer Pantaleo, 29, for the death. We now gather and in unison shout “No Justice, No Peace” around the country in response to what seems inconceivable based upon the viral video footage. Lady Justice seems to have missed her mark. But we must not lose heart.
There have been very dark periods throughout our collective histories before. The list of unspeakable discrimination against Jews, Italians, Irish, Japanese, blacks, and other ethnic groups (including women) is too long to itemize. These have been storms that each of us would have preferred to avoid. However, a wise man once told me, “There has never been a storm that didn’t pass over.”
The struggle highlighted in the Garner case is not a struggle of racism in my opinion. The race card is over played, which diminishes movement against racism when it really occurs. We saw a good example of racism recently with the revelation of private emails between Sony Entertainment executives and their pejorative exchange about President Obama. Incidentally, there have been no cries for boycotts against Sony films yet.
Rather, in the Garner matter, I see two problems: (1) zealous policing for an alleged misdemeanor infraction that should have never warranted a physical encounter and (2) a flawed grand jury decision that failed to recognize the use of excessive force. Unless and until I see racial motive, I am unable to label this as a race problem. It’s not enough that a black man was killed by a white man; that does not make the death motivated by race although recent and historical events pull my community to that conclusion. (By the same token, I typically accept the decisions of a trier of fact because they have the information that I do not; however, in this case, the world saw the incident and it is inconceivable to lay eyes that Officer Pantaleo did not commit a crime against Garner.)
This is a storm. It is a storm for the Garner family just as my shooting was a storm for my family. This is a storm for New York and even for the nation. The unwarranted taking of a life under the color of authority is a serious matter for us all, but so is the senseless killing by blacks against other blacks. We must not pretend the elephant is not in the room. Ninety percent of the deaths in the black community are by blacks themselves, reports Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal.
So where is justice in these storms? Just as it was for me when I fell tragically into the hands of violence by a black youth, justice is in our perseverance to bring about righteousness; justice comes riding on the winds of change as she has done throughout time. But justice must come not only for the Garner family but also to our very own communities where killing each other has become sport.