Justice Is Possible #Ferguson

This is a guest post by Anthony Smith, aka postmodernnegro.

No indictment for Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in his murder of Michael Brown. Not shocked. Definitely not surprised. However, I am sad and angry. To many people this is not understood. But to many in my cohort, this is a part of the cultural furniture of living in the United States of America. We get it. We experience the onslaught of daily indignities that are the crumbs of endemic white supremacy.

As I went to bed Monday night after watching the county prosecutor Robert McCullough announce that there would be no indictment of Officer Wilson a thought came to me: French philosopher and father of deconstructionism Jacques Derrida was right. Justice is a possibility. 

Jacques Derrida

Then I began a thought experiment based upon this thought along with recent conversations I’ve been having in the black community about economic development and political engagement. Suppose Derrida is right? Suppose that justice is a possibility. A phantasm that always eludes our grasp in this society. Maybe, at best, we get crumbs of a semblance of justice every century or so.

But this idea. This idea that justice as a possibility got me to think about the work and legacy of early 20th century black pan-africanist activist and entrepreneur Marcus Garvey. You may have never heard of him. Especially if you never paid attention during black history month. Garvey talked about self-determination in the black community. He was one of the early black nationalists, calling for black folks to create their own economy, political systems, and cultural reality separate from whites. It was a radical move for his day (still is actually).

Marcus Garvey

But imagine Garvey and Derrida walking into a bar together. They begin to compare notes. I can imagine Garvey telling Derrida how his claim of justice-as-possibility buttresses his claim of the necessity of black political and economic autonomy. Derrida may ask, in a Socratic manner, “Why do you say this?” I can hear Garvey saying, “Because you say justice is a possibility. I’d add to that by saying that in America racial justice will be an eternal possibility.”

This thought stuck to me: suppose racial justice in America will forever be an eternal possibility. Only a possibility. Never to cross over wholly into the event horizon of actuality.

Then I can hear Derrida protesting by saying, “Deconstruction is justice.” We can attain some relative racial justice if we could only deconstruct the entirety of the American system.  In the case of our criminal justice system the issue of mass incarceration, school-to-prison pipelines, communities being policed in a racially disproportionate manner mitigating vast chasms of cultural misunderstandings.

You get the picture. But who wants to begin that project? Especially when you see over and over again the murder of young black men in the media without reprisal by the systems and structures that claim, as their mission, to deliver justice to its citizens.

Before last night I thought there would be no indictment and that we would soldier on, organizing and protesting and calling the Powers into account. But after it was said and done, my soul conjured the thought of the possibility that racial justice in America will forever and eternally be a possibility. A world without end. 

What do you think?

Anthony Smith

Anthony Smith blogs at postmodernegro.com and is engaged in social justice work in Salisbury, NC.

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  • Brad

    Yes, it’s an “eternal possibility”, and it will never be an eternal actuality. Humans suffer injustices, qnd always will. Put is all in Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus, if you would like. We’re all pushing a rock up a hill (ALL of us. Not just blacks)

    The amount of young black men killed by police is proportionate to the more aggressive crimes committed by black young men. Unfortunately. But we can do the Derridian shift of transcendental signifiers, and we can make facts and stats say something else. Unfortunately, that’s what has been done in the case of Michael Brown. I would have been part of the parade of “I am Michael Brown” had white people been included as victims, just as much, of police brutality (proportionate to thr amount of aggressive crimes committed by whites). Unfortunately, I was left out of this dialogue and protest, so this Cornel West fan and Derridean thinker will say nothing more. It’s a shame this was touted as racism before the evidence was investigated.

  • http://newyorker.com/books/page-turner/science-fiction-classic-still-smolders Isaac Edward Leibowitz

    It wasn’t “murder.” You bear false witness.

    ” […] 18-year-old Brown “has his arms out with attitude,” while “The cop just stood there.” The witness added, “Dang if that kid didn’t start running right at the cop like a football player. Head down.”

    The witness told of hearing “3 bangs,” but “the big kid wouldn’t stop.”

    The witness’s account of the unarmed Brown charging Wilson–even after he had been shot in the hand during a struggle at the cop’s patrol car–supports the officer’s contention that he fired a series of shots as Brown bore down on him.

    thesmokinggun.com/buster/darren-wilson/witnesss-said-brown-charged-wilson-897043

    • R Vogel
      • http://newyorker.com/books/page-turner/science-fiction-classic-still-smolders Isaac Edward Leibowitz

        If you think the grand jury made an error in the case of State of Missouri v. Darren Wilson, do tell.

        • R Vogel

          Just looking at Wilson’s recounting of the events, I am hard pressed to understand how someone could come away with more answers than questions, questions that I would have like to seen subject to vigorous cross-examination. So, yes, I think they erred. In the same way that a significant number of people thought the jury in the OJ Simpson trial erred. They erred by not giving us all the opportunity to see those question explored in court. I have a hard time accepting that a police officer has a raspberry on his cheek and an unarmed young man has 6 bullet holes in him and not think something, somewhere went terribly wrong. Things may have transpired as Officer Wilson said, but it troubles me that in his narrative brown acts in such a bizarre and frankly suicidal manner.

          • http://newyorker.com/books/page-turner/science-fiction-classic-still-smolders Isaac Edward Leibowitz

            > […] So yes, I think they erred.

            Cross examination is for a criminal trial with enough evidence, not grand jury deliberations considering the evidence. I just don’t see anything you said that discredits their decision. Neither I don’t see anything that discredits our judicial system.

            Because Wilson did not have to testify at all, but did anyway, speaks to his innocence. He could have easily, and legally, kept his mouth shut. The jury may not have been allowed to consider that angle, but to me, an outside casual observe, it speaks volumes. If he had not testified and kept silent, that silence would be being used against him right now.

            As far as bizarre behavior, Brown was doing illegal drugs; blood tests—even done by the Feds—prove that. Especially in the young, marijuana can cause psychosis. currentpsychiatry.com/home/article/does-marijuana-contribute-to-psychotic-illness/9fcdb8d246a5edacffac4a29bcb0d452.html (I’d be happy to see prohibition stopped, but pot isn’t all rainbow ponies like the legalization activists try to make it.)

            The narrative of “police abuse” just does not fit this case. It does in many other cases, as Radley Balko has documented for years. huffingtonpost.com/radley-balko/ Police abuse is on my sociopolitical radar. But police abuse activists have hitched their star to the wrong wagon in this case.

            • R Vogel

              I made no attempt to discredit their decision or the justice system. I simply think they erred. It happens all the time. If you have never questioned the result of any judicial proceeding ever, then I guess you have a position. If not, then stop trying to act like a judicial ruling simply closes the book on something. It doesn’t. A grand jury decision, even less.

              The fact that Wilson was not going to subject to cross-examination and had a prosecutor who seemed to be more interested in defending his actions than prosecuting them makes his taking the stand something less than a shining example of his innocence. I’m not sure how that holds water either way, I am sure that Officer Wilson doesn’t think he did anything wrong. I never intimated he had anything to hide. I’m sure to him things played out exactly as he said. That doesn’t mean it’s either an accurate or complete depiction of the events. Questions remain that I think should have been heard by a jury in an actual trial. You are free to disagree.

              marijuana can cause psychosis

              See, this is the thing: Was this a hearing to defend Officer Wilson’s version of events? Because that what it seems like. Consider this exchange in the testimony between the ‘prosecutor’ and an unnamed medical expert regarding the amount of marijuana in his system:

              “The amount of marijuana he has could cause abnormal behavior, but usually doesn’t,” the unnamed expert said on November 13. “Ninety-nine out of 100 people taking marijuana aren’t going to get in a fight with a police officer over it in my experience.”

              Immediately after, a prosecutor questioned the expert’s credentials: “Can I just clarify something here, doctor? Your credentials are as a forensic pathologist, although you have a working understanding of toxicology, you are not a toxicologist, correct?”
              [http://www.vox.com/michael-brown-shooting-ferguson-mo/2014/8/18/6031331/michael-brown-ferguson-marijuana/in/7041840]

              Does that sound like a prosecutor or a defense attorney? Since when does the ‘prosecutor’ challenge the credentials of a medical expert who is undermining the defense?

          • http://batman-news.com 3lemenope

            To be entirely fair I don’t think the origin of the error rests with the grand jury. The error eminates from a prosecutor who took the extraordinary step of throwing this case before a grand jury in the first place so he can have some personal political cover, and then took the unheard-of absolutely mind-meltingly ridiculous step of presenting exculpatory evidence and defendant testimony to the grand jury. This is not what a grand jury is for, and is an amazing abuse of prosecutorial discretion bordering on outright malpractice. At the very least, it is a luxury that is afforded to no other prospective defendants, so amounts to special treatment; given that info dumps are known to do exactly what it did to the grand jury in this case, it is hard to be even this charitable about motives. The grand jurors unfortunately only ever hear from the prosecutor who is already bent on corrupting the process, and so it is not shocking that he was able to lead them where he wanted them to go.

            • R Vogel

              Great summation – I agree completely. It is hard to read the testimony and not think the prosecutor was more interested in defending Wilson than presenting the case for prosecution. I am not condemning Wilson, he deserved a vigorous defense…just not from the prosecutor.

  • KentonS

    “He was one of the early black nationalists, calling for black folks to create their own economy, political systems, and cultural reality separate from whites.”

    It’s a formula for success other minority groups have used for a long time. My physician for over 40 years was Jewish. Every time he made a referral, the doctor he referred was Jewish. Asian communities have likewise always done business with each other cycling dollars among themselves whenever they could. There is a lot of money in the African-American community that could “raise all the boats” if there were pressure from that community on folks at the top of the heap to spend their money within the community.

    That’s my dos centavos, anyway.

  • John Vest

    This is depressing. I’m too much of a classic liberal to give up hope. Optimism about progress is the irrational part of my faith I can’t let go.

  • S_i_m_o_n

    If only penal substitutionary atonement were true then racial justice wouldn’t be an eternal possibility or even just a possibility but a certain eventuality … if only.

  • Guest

    The only one to blame for the death of Michael Brown is Michael Brown.

  • RS5000

    Looking at the facts, this incident appears increasingly to be the confrontation of a youth with little or no respect for the law and an officer reacting to an imminent physical assault.

    I can appreciate the motivation for a larger discussion of racial justice, but as far as I’m concerned, this event isn’t it.

  • Nimblewill

    I wish there was at least some anger about the businesses and livelihoods that are being destroyed by the thugs of Missouri.