Justice vs. A Pound of Flesh

Most of us want justice in the Michael Brown case, whatever that is

“I would ask the people who are engaged in the rioting, ‘What exactly is it that you want? What is the message that you are trying to get across? We’re willing to listen. Just tell us what it is.’”


– Dr. Ben Carson,
on the unrest in Ferguson, Mo.


Sadly, Dr. Ben Carson, a Mandela-esque figure of calm, kindness and reason who is a favorite presidential candidate among many conservatives, likely won’t be listened to – either in Ferguson or elsewhere.

Instead, in the midst of the lynch-mob mania there, you’ve got Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon whipping the crowd up with a call from on high for a “vigorous prosecution” of the officer in the case.

A “vigorous prosecution”? Doesn’t that kind of presuppose guilt? Should a governor of a state really be saying, or even thinking. something like that?

One might expect an angry crowd to give in to a rush to judgment and calls for “justice” that really amount to convicting a man before all the evidence is in. But for a governor to do so is beyond irresponsible. It’s reprehensible.

Nixon, along with the usual coterie of race hustlers such as Al Sharpton, has unfortunately – even frighteningly – fomented anger and unrest in the shooting death of young black Michael Brown by a white police officer. And they may have, unadvisedly, puffed up expectations for a swift and sure conviction in the case.

As evidence seeped out this week, it began to appear more and more possible that the young man may have had more than a bystander’s role in the confrontation: He was seen on surveillance video assaulting a store clerk, and further physically intimidating the clerk, just minutes before the fatal conflagration; and the officer was said to have suffered a facial fracture in the scuffle.

Meanwhile, a celebrity pathologist brought in by the Brown family says his autopsy could not rule out the possibility that Brown was rushing the officer when he was shot, something that other witnesses have suggested happened.

Regardless, “justice” does not favor one person over another, no matter how heated the emotions.

Moreover, consider how incredibly difficult it will be to satisfy the inconsolable protesters: Given any amount of conflicting or mitigating evidence, it will be extremely difficult for an impartial jury to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the shooting was wholly unjustified. The truth is, given the clear evidence of Mr. Brown’s undeniably menacing mugging of the store clerk, the prosecution will have an incredibly high bar to hurdle.

Unfortunately, neither the high emotions, nor high officials, have prepared the populace for that naked truth. Indeed, one Missouri state senator, Jamilah Nasheed, recklessly warned that a non-indictment of the officer would produce “havoc” in the streets that would make the recent protests “seem like a picnic” in comparison.

Heaven help Ferguson if the officer is eventually acquitted. Its “leaders” have made anything but a conviction look like a racial outrage – again, before the evidence is even proffered.

Shame on them, and anyone else who incites riots by perpetrating such a fraud on a susceptible public.

So, to expound on Dr. Carson’s question: What do they want? Justice? Or a pound of flesh, regardless of what the evidence dictates?

If they want justice – the kind which African-Americans fought centuries to obtain – it’s safe to say most of America is with them.

If that’s so, the violent nights and chronic angst have been
utterly unnecessary; those wanting justice in Ferguson were never truly alone.

The nagging expectation of injustice is understandable, certainly. Maybe the broader society – and a knee-jerk, inflammatory news media – could do a much better job of communicating the fact that most of this country, every race included, wants justice too. Even – perhaps especially – if that means putting a rogue police officer in prison for a very long time.

But if justice ultimately demands a less satisfying outcome for the protesters, will they accept that?

If anyone in this country should be wary of a justice system run amok on the incendiary fumes of anger, it’s African-Americans. They were on the wrong end of that travesty far too long.

The moral of the story in To Kill a Mockingbird had to do with not succumbing to a lynch mob mentality in the face of a
racially-tinged crime.

After all these years, the
lesson of that classic morality play appears tragically lost on many.