What does Justice Look Like?

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Like much of the country I have been following the absurdity happening in Ferguson. I engaged in discussions around riots, I watched as the police stripped away the veil and showed the entire world the truth of what so many have been saying they were: domestic terrorists. I watched as the President gave the watered down standard politically calculating speech. I saw everybody swoon over the change of guard and the “sense of relief” that had come to Ferguson as the highway patrol took over for St. Louis county police. What I didn’t watch, what I haven’t read, is an actual articulation of what justice would actually look like. So, let’s talk about that.

Michael Brown is just the latest (not really though because Ezell Ford was shot as we were all watching Ferguson as well as another young man in Ferguson) in the overwhelming body of evidence that black lives do not matter in America. There are the examples that everybody can name: Eric Garner,Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Oscar Grant, Aiyana Jones, Sean Bell the list seems endless. In fact, in many ways, the list is endless and the truth is catastrophic. As the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s study “Operation Ghetto Storm” illustrated the names listed above are only the tip of the iceberg, every 28 hours a black life is taken by police or their proxies in this country. This is a staggering statistic and a sobering reality that demands immediate and serious attention. It is this attention that protesters are demanding when they chant “No Justice No Peace.”  But what is justice? As much as George Zimmerman deserves to be rotting in a cell, as much as Darren Wilson deserves a life sentence, as much as Johannes Mehserle should never see the light of day, none of that is going to bring justice. In fact the United States justice system is an oxymoron and to rely on it to provide justice is a fools errand. How can justice come from a system built on injustice? It can’t. Where it can come from, though, is in knowledge, in education.

Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher and believe in the axiom “when we know better we do better” that I believe the only way we get justice for the victims of this most violent manifestation of white supremacy is by teaching people that that is precisely what this is: a manifestation of white supremacy. It is time to stop bullshitting and pretending like there is a legit debate about whether we are post-racial and if reverse racism is a thing. We aren’t and it’s not. It is time to stop with the nonsense that we can just be race neutral and everything will fix itself. Race is at the heart of who we are as a country and to ignore it is to default to white norms. No, we are sick and we need to treat the disease. It is time to require a curriculum in this country that tells the truth about the genocide this country was based on, the racialized dehumanization and downright brutality that made it wealthy, and the continued racialized and class oppression that facilitates and provides the foundation for things like Ferguson and the murder of Michael Brown. Instead of banning Ethnic Studies we should have a federal requirement that all students need to complete a comprehensive Ethnic Studies curriculum. And this curriculum cannot simply pay lip service to the experience of people of color and be full of apologies for white folks. Quite to the contrary it needs to indict whiteness as the issue. It is the lack of this type of education that provides the space for ignorance like the white folks of Olivette, a mostly white suburb of St. Louis, showed when they were asked about what was happening in Ferguson. They say things like “He (Mike Brown) wasn’t really innocent” and that people outside of Ferguson are making it too big of a deal, adding fuel to the fire. More than the ignorance, the scary and dangerous thing is the lack of empathy these people display. An Ethnic Study curriculum would mediate this. There are plenty of folks already doing this type of liberating, truth-telling education and it is delivering results. A good example of this is happening right here in Minneapolis at Roosevelt High School where teachers have to reflect on their identity and its effects in the classroom. This education is the only way that I can see to peacefully confront the insanity that is currently plaguing this country. It will do this by nurturing and developing leaders who understand the urgent need for policies that address these structural inequalities. With this type of education in place reparations, which there is a beyond solid case for, would be more than just a dream but a tangible reality. Policies that incorporate community impact statements would be common place. And there could be a real prioritization of people over profit. This would of course extend beyond our borders as American imperialism and colonization would find it hard to sustain itself. The people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Puerto Rico, Indonesia, Latin America, shit everywhere we have a military base, which is everywhere we’ve been, would now have a real chance at self-determination. It would be incomprehensible to debate climate change because we would have removed the fog of capitalism and American exceptionalism leaving us able to connect our well being as a people to the well being of the Earth, which makes all life possible. This is the only peaceful path to justice. There will undoubtedly be vehement opposition to this. Too many have grown up in the colorblind mythos and too many are benefiting from the status quo. To them I simply say:  “No Justice No Peace!”

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