It seems there are two mutually incompatible understandings of the word "justice" at odds in Ferguson, Missouri. The first is based on the adjudication of facts and evidence, to arrive at proof of guilt or innocence. This is the strictly rational, legal understanding of the word.
The second is larger, more encompassing--and more truthful. It has to do with social justice, with the assertion of equal rights for all, the fairness of the law itself, and the way it is implemented by police and the judicial system.
My brain is with the former definition. My heart is with the latter.
I am not surprised, nor can I in good conscience condemn those whose patience is at an end. There is clear injustice at work when young Black men can be regularly shot and killed with impunity, not only by police but by armed bystanders; when unemployment rates for young Blacks are wildly disproportionate to those of their white peers; when they are routinely profiled, whether in traffic or in stores, as worthy of suspicion; when they are arrested and jailed more frequently, and with longer sentences, for crimes that are often trivial and victimless.
This is a reality in this country which few reasonable people would dispute. No matter how legally rational and defensible, it is not justice but a mockery of justice.
We are now in the twenty-first century in America, and the historical stain of slavery continues to pervade our social structure. Racial prejudice is rife, and generally unacknowledged. We need look no further than the irrational hatred for our first Black president to see its toxicity at work.
I abhor violence. I hear pleas for peace on all sides. But when you have struggled peacefully for so long and have met with the same denial and the same resistance, when you have reached such a point of despair that you no longer believe in peaceful methods and no longer care, what alternative are you left with?
It's to be hoped that out of all this anger, all this violence, we will come at least to an acknowledgement that we have a problem that needs to be addressed; to honest public discussion of the issue; and to a new understanding of how "the law" must be applied if we are to have real justice, not just its outer husk.