Black and White Justice

We tend not to question courts’ judgments. When the judiciary rules “guilty” or “not guilty” we usually perceive it as fact. “Let the court decide about it,” we used to say when the defense of any party in the case seems to be inconvenient, starting with the nightly escapades of [parliamentarian] Wipler and ending with gunfire in the Afghan [village of] Nanghar Khel by Polish soldiers. Some party must be truthful, right? The court will decide and we will find out how it was, who was right and who wasn’t.

If everything was black and white, if the court could always be right and had justice on its side, if its decisions would always be undisputed and if the law could compensate harm — we would have nothing to do as citizens, since some court would be able to finally settle a dispute. But this is not the case. The parents of Michael Brown, a teenager who was shot by a policeman in Ferguson (in the state of Missouri), will now find out whether their son was murdered. Even if six holes in his body speak of it quite clearly, the court will not confirm it. It will not state anything because it will not press charges. The jury already decided that there are no grounds on which any of the five allegations could be acknowledged, starting with coldblooded murder and unintentional killing.

The policeman, Darren Wilson, killed Michael Brown but he killed in the light of the law — as the jury recognized. Or maybe only by some part of the jury — because four out of 12 unconvinced people were enough not to continue looking for Wilson’s guilt. Only by majority rule, with nine out of 12 voices, could the case be referred to the court. Justice is triumphing. Or at least, a quarter of the justice, as Wilson could have killed Brown in the light of the law. Everybody could have. In Missouri, it is enough to give a “rational” reason for the acknowledgement that using a firearm (or any other weapon) was necessary to “defend yourself, your unborn child or others from death, serious injury or a violent crime.”* According to the jury, Wilson shot in self-defense.

But why did he fire six times, including two shots in the head, when Brown had no gun — as was proven by ballistic experts — standing a few meters from a police car that [Brown had] intended to attack? Evidence and accounts are contradictory. Some people claim that Brown was struggling with the policeman and he may have been guilty of stealing a packet of cigars from some shop, which became a reason for stopping him by the patrol [unit]. Others say that he was running away, his hands in the air, and the police didn’t have any convincing evidence that this harmless teenager alone could have posed a threat to the policemen in the cruiser. But the court is not going to be bothered by any evidence and arguments. Self-defense is self-defense; the law is the law.

But this law brings nothing to Brown’s family or the community of Ferguson that burst into rage and took to the streets after the verdict was announced. The demonstrators are praying and reminiscing about Brown, as well as vandalizing shops. Authorities, in accordance with the law, are [issuing a warning] while at the same time bringing heavy artillery into Ferguson illegally, expelling journalists and arranging prohibitions on flights.

President Obama is making some rhetorical pirouettes, as he wants to speak about racial injustice (from which we are happily graduating, he adds), and about justice in a country of law (in the direction of which we have already come, he adds).

And he, too, has to finally face reality — because one cannot steal cigars but one can shoot in self-defense. The more chaotic it gets, the more this needs to be organized. Maybe that is the reason the state of emergency announced by the governor will last for the whole week, even if the decision of the jury was revealed only yesterday. Is this compatible with the law? Perhaps it will be stated by some court, one day in the future.

Only if the law won’t get blurred completely. Let’s hope it won’t. Because the American justice system will have to pass another test in a few months. The jury in the state of Ohio will have to speak in the case of the policemen who shot Tamir Rice. Tamir was only 12, and was running in the park holding a semi-automatic rifle. But the rifle was made of plastic, from a toy store. Did the policeman shoot him in self-defense? Was it right? Did the [officers] have a rational reason to fear for their lives? We will have to learn it from the jury. Perhaps even the court will decide on it.

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