In light of the George Zimmerman verdict, I believe many people are blaming the wrong system. There seems to be a presupposition that the job of criminal courts is to administer justice, and I believe that is a mistaken notion. The job of criminal courts is to assess compliance with the law. Whether or not those laws themselves are just is another matter.
In a State like Florida where so-called “stand your ground” laws exist, I do not believe justice is available in the criminal courts. From a moral perspective, every human being has the duty to walk away from potentially (or actually) violent conflict. Standing your ground is simply not a moral choice. We can argue endlessly about whether or not George Zimmerman’s choice to play junior police officer was covered under the stand your ground law or not. The truth is that the very existence of the law is the problem, because it created in Zimmerman the belief that his actions were legal and therefore opened the door of possibility for lethal violence. Concealed carry laws do the same thing in that they legally put a weapon on the hip of every potential vigilante in the country, but I digress.
The response has been predictable, from rioting in Miami and immature YouTube video commentary on that rioting to small-minded twenty-somethings in Milwaukee promising on Facebook last night to go out and commit random acts of violence against white folk, they are exercises in missing the point because they ramp up the pain and fear and virtually guarantee that another senseless act of violence at the hands of a fear-filled, self-appointed justice administrator of potentially any and every race will occur and be followed by acts of retribution. It is not possible to solve a violence problem with more violence. Have we not been paying attention to the entirety of human history, which continually intervenes in violent situations with violence and – every single time – fails to stop the violence for more than a brief interval?
The anger in response to this verdict is real and it is justified, but unless we take the energy behind the anger and turn it toward a solution we will sit with all of those throughout time who have failed to learn from history and find ourselves in this same situation a few months or years down the road. From O.J. Simpson to Casey Anthony to George Zimmerman, high profile cases seldom get convictions in criminal courts. I believe justice, to the extent that the courts administer justice, will come through the civil courts and the civil rights courts. I also believe the larger question is, “how do we change the system?” The answer is not a quick fix because people’s hearts do not change overnight, but it is the only answer.
The answer is not God. I have seen many people proclaim in their pain that justice comes from the Almighty, not from courts of law. To believe that God will somehow sort all of this out is to believe in hell and I simply cannot believe in that archaic cosmology, even though at times like this it is tempting to have an eternal torture chamber at our disposal. What’s more, there is no evidence throughout history of God ever setting anything right because all such solutions allegedly take place post-mortem when there aren’t any witnesses. Offering the traditional view of God as a solution to this kind of injustice is little more than advising the victimized to sit down and shut up. There may be an answer in karma, though karma has the same problem as offering the traditional view of God in that it takes so long to ripen that none of us will live to see it and so is not extremely effective in changing cultural norms but serves in this case as another opiate of compliance.
The answer lies in creating a society in which violence is unacceptable and compassion is the supreme value, and that society must be created by changing the hearts and minds of individuals. Legislation may help in the short-term, but legislation alone is not the answer. To effect these changes it will we necessary to reform our political process, because whether we are talking about a Republican Congress that is blocking all legislation, a Democratic President that believes it is fine to spy on Americans, or a Supreme Court that ruled corporations are people, the truth is that our political system is owned by corporations and we must take it back – but we must take it back nonviolently.
The real message behind the acquittal of George Zimmerman isn’t that the white man has it out for the black man, it is that those in power want to keep us fighting amongst ourselves so that we remain distracted from the real problem – all three branches of our government are irretrievably broken and corrupt. Piss ant tyrants occupy the seats of power from the Oval Office to the Governor’s Mansion to the mayors of our cities who call in the FBI and the American Gestapo, Homeland Security, to disrupt legal, peaceful protests like the Occupy Movement. Why can’t Trayvon Martin walk home safely from the corner store? I suggest it is because you and I are too damn lazy to take our system back.
Is there racism in America? Absolutely. More importantly to the systemic problem there is prejudice, and prejudice cuts across all racial groups and runs in every direction. As long as I don’t trust you and you don’t trust me we will never work together to end the violence. As long as you are willing to strike back and I am willing to retaliate after you do so we will never have peace. As long as people are unwilling to face the problems of our society directly and retreat instead behind whatever we use to numb our pain our society will continue to decay. If we want justice, we are going to have to create a nation where the primary values are compassion, cooperation, and nonviolence. Sadly, most of us regardless of race are just too damn lazy and complacent to do the hard work to make that vision a reality. The good news, is it only takes a few motivated people to start.
We can piss and moan and whine about the way things are, and I suppose that is necessary for a season, but if you really want change you are going to have to work for it in a nonsectarian way that everyone can access. Don’t wait for God to intervene, don’t wait for Jesus to come again, don’t wait for the Flying Spaghetti Monster to descend – look to yourself, the arms and legs of Divine Change, and get to steppin!