Racism in justice system still exists

Neil Cooler//Flickr: A protest against the Ferguson grand jury's decision.

Sitting down to draft this column, we felt our originally intended topic of campaign finance reform was being drowned out by the cry of a different conversation engulfing, disturbing and unsettling our country. The same conversation many of us ignored during Thanksgiving: Ferguson.

“But what else do three more white men have to offer in this discussion?” we had to ask ourselves.

On the one hand, groups of white men around the country are arguing over race-baiting, racist institutions, Michael Brown’s and Darren Wilson’s characters, police militarization, rioting and looting and acceptable forms of protests. In light of the massive amount of discourse on the topic, it seemed that our two cents would be a drop in the proverbial bucket. However, we all looked with astonishment, bewilderment and shock at the rhetoric around us, and this was the cause for the change in subject matter.

We do not pretend to be the enlightened saviors ready to rectify the tension in our country. Nor do we feel pretending to be “colorblind” in any way helps deconstruct the racist institutions our country was built upon. Instead, we offer our thoughts in an attempt to be allies to the oppressed.

The Ferguson grand jury proceedings were highly unorthodox for the justice system. One need not look any further than the National Bar Association’s critique of the proceedings. While, technically speaking, these irregularities would be a problem regardless of race, we cannot simply ignore the systems of oppression inherent of the situation: A white police officer with a gun shot an unarmed black teenager six times and the grand jury proceedings differed vastly from its traditional approach. These two forms of oppression cannot be isolated from one another, regardless of one’s personal, political, or social background.

The United States has a long history of racism in our legal institutions. Any student of U.S. history should be aware of this fact. Almost any oppressive situation involving the government — whether the police or the judicial system — and African-American communities in our nation is also about racial oppression because our history has inextricably entangled the two. One cannot ignore history simply because it is inconvenient. The events of this past week in Ferguson are a recent manifestation of the larger issue of systematic racial oppression that Americans must face and resolve if we truly seek justice.

But all this will be lost on most people. They are the ones saying, “we don’t know all the facts. Were you at the grand jury? We don’t know what happened. This is a complicated issue.”

It’s not; it’s another dead child and another cop who walks without so much as a trial. Those in this group are also probably more concerned with the looting and violent protesting dominating the coverage. Many say, “I know that people are upset, but looting is never acceptable. They don’t even care about Michael Brown. They only want TVs. They’re just confirming the stereotype.”

Besides the fact that we are a nation born out of violence, looting, arson and rioting (the American Revolution was not pretty. Not only did the Boston Tea Party destroy about one million dollars worth of tea, arson was frequently used against royal appointments, and we suggest you do not look up the effects of tarring-and-feathering too soon after eating), they are being unwittingly transparent about their values. If looting and property damage are the only things America cares about, why on earth wouldn’t that be an appropriate response? How many dead children is a storefront window worth?

The civil rights movement did not make us a post-racial society. Neither did Barack Obama’s election to the presidency. The events in Ferguson reminded us how difficult it can be to have these conversations, but we cannot “take race out of the picture,” by simply saying so and going back to Buzzfeed and turkey. What happened in Ferguson, what has happened again and again in recent history, is worth taking to the streets for, even if sometimes that spills over into a looted convenience store.

Phillip de Tombe, George Seelinger and Zac Davis are contributing columnists. You can contact them at pdetombe@luc.edu, gseelinger@luc.edu and zdavis2@luc.edu.

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