On the Unasked Question of Morality in Police Shootings of Black Bodies


Dr. Jason Michael Williams I Criminal Justice I Commentary I May 28th, 2015



In the past year much has happened regarding police shootings of Black bodies, and the majority of these shootings go unpunished. They go unpunished due to defensive statements such as, "I followed procedure" or "I feared for my life". Nevertheless, these two quintessential defense statements are disproportionately applied to instances where Blacks are killed by police, yet as a society the United States does or says very little to contextualize the impact such defensive statements have on our collective consciousness and morality. However, it should be noted that this silence is deliberate, historical, and quintessentially American. Thus, morality, to many on the margins, is nonexistent at the foundation of the criminal justice system and many of the laws that govern society specifically laws that disproportionately target the poor.

There is a social-historical pathology attached to the ways in which the American public responds to the killing of Black bodies. Just as police officers claim fear today, so did white mobs during Jim Crow. Black men were hunted and killed countless times out of so-called fear due to often false allegations of rape, murder, and a myriad of other unreasonable accusations. Black women were often murdered for trivial reasons too. Nevertheless, these false and unreasonable accusations were justifiable to the American public whose barbarity knew no measures when directed at Black bodies. This pathology exists today, in the hearts and minds of many mainstreamers who dare utter "#AllLivesMatter", as if to suppose that the murdering of Black bodies is somehow contemporary. Some mainstreamers have considered #BlackLivesMatter as a form of reverse racism. Thus arguing that the statement is somehow exclusive to other people who are killed, but this is, of course, a testament to the lack of critical thinking and historical intelligence writ large in America.

In modern society, this pathology is played out most vividly via the tumultuous relationship between Blacks and police officers. There had been countless murders of Black citizens by police, and yet many of them have been legally justified-that is, these cases have gone through the investigative processes of so-called fact-finding and rendered permissible. However, every so often, there are cases that wreck the consciousness of even the greatest conformers to the social order. For example, the case of Eric Garner, to many Americans of all colors was a prima facie case of wrongdoing, and yet the officer involved in Mr. Garner's death faced no punishment. Another case in Cleveland where two Black bodies were shot 137 times by police officers has too failed to accomplish moral justice. Cleveland police officer, Michael Brelo cried as he heard his verdict of not-guilty. Brelo was accused of firing 49 shots of which 15 were shot while on the hood of the victims' car. In clear opposition to an increasingly irritated public regarding police brutality, Judge John P. O'Donnell uttered, "I will not sacrifice him to a public frustrated by historical mistreatment at the hands of other officers." If the judge were truly neutral to the concerns of the irritated public, such a reckless and defining statement would not have been made.

Nevertheless, the Judge's rationale coexists with the feelings of many throughout the country. Whether one is scrolling through social media commentary, internet articles or watching mainstream media, the mainstream narrative is quite clear: Black lives don't matter! And the insistence of this reality is cemented each time a Black is immorally murdered by the state. These ceremonial constants have caused many people throughout the nation to lose faith in the American justice system, including mainstreamers. Although Judge O'Donnell in the Cleveland case believed that the evidence was not solid to convict Officer Brelo, like the Garner case, many feel discontent. This discontentment is the proper manifestation of people realizing that justice in America isn't always the moral outcome, a concept that a true justice system would strive to achieve. In fact, when "fact-finding" exist within an adversarial system easily corrupted by extralegal factors (race, gender, wealth, power, etc.), justice will undoubtedly fail those who aren't privy to the game. Thus, American justice isn't always about siding with moral rights, but rather it often swings on the side of barbarity and injustice as it falsely masquerades as one of the world's most advanced and civilized systems.

The countless cases of police officers walking free from killing American citizens who happen to be Black is a testament to the limitations of American justice. Black lives don't matter. As a result, demonstrators of late have continued to take to the streets against the immorality of American justice. They have continued to expose lady justice for the two-faced symbolism that she represents, as the global community pays witness. For these courageous individuals, the legality of justice and the majoritarian trickery invested in trying fact does not seem to fit within a moralistic frame. To these people, lives were unjustly lost, and police officers can get away with murder for simply stating what White men were able to hide behind since slavery: Fear of a Black body.

The Black lives matter movement at best should force the public to question the purpose of the criminal justice system seriously, and whether or not the processes that are currently embraced serve the interest of justice. The subjective citizenship of Black Americans should be the next topic of discussion. For instance, are Blacks to be treated as human beings, citizens, and, therefore, worthy of the right to live, breathe, and seek justice? These are key discussions that must begin to happen if justice is to be taken seriously in America. This conversation should also be raw, wide-reaching, and aided by both historical and contemporary facts. Certain acts of "justice" should be studied as violence. For example, the deliberate mass incarceration of minorities and poor people is, in fact, violence. Mass incarceration breaks up families (much like how slavery did), predisposes people to crime, destroys communities (politically, economically, and ecologically) thus pushing these spaces further beyond the margins, and render most to a life of poverty and outcast. The effects of so-called justice seem to perpetuate further inequality. In a real democracy, the state would not engage in such violence.

Furthermore, the creation of immoral laws like the war on drugs that create the contexts for Michael Browns are inhumane and violent. Such laws are neither safe for its targets (predominantly Black and Brown although now increasingly White) nor police officers. Also, the over policing of the poor is violent and extremely telling for a nation that considers itself a democracy. Over policing is violent, repressive, and undemocratic, as it mandates surveillance for the bottom and liberty for those at the top. While many people advocate for community policing in America's ghettos, such arguments should be met with extreme caution, as community policing furthers the paternalistic mindset that the poor must be governed. Meanwhile, there are zero discussions regarding the need for community policing or surveillance programs on Wall Street or within other corporate spaces that are obviously privileged against the criminal justice system. These basic statements are more than enough for a conversation to be had on the purpose of the criminal justice system. Who does it serve? Who is most affected by it? What are the collateral consequences? Is a system of violence capable of delivering justice? Is the system morally bankrupt? Does there need to be a revolution regarding the criminal justice system?