When Justice Does Not Admit a Moderate Response

I’ve declared myself a political moderate on Facebook since I first had an account. I’ve said that I have issues I care passionately about, ones I feel uninformed about, and ones where I think a moderate approach works best. 

We like moderation, that soft belly of the middle, because it’s an easy place to hide in. It’s a place to say, well, what are the facts? and We don’t have experience with that and, of course, I think there is truth to both sides. I’ve liked the middle road, the way between the big tents, because I think there it’s safe, I won’t get in trouble, no side can point to me and say, “unjust!” or “too radical!” 

Aristotle thought that virtue, at least in some respects, was best defined as a mean between extremes of excess and deficiency. Courage, say, would be a mean between excessive fear and recklessness. I think we like this mean approach because it allows us to stand somewhere and say everyone on either side of us is too extreme: doesn’t see the full picture.

But the mean is not the mountaintop. And justice does not always give us the moderate response. 

Earlier this week, the grand jury returned a no-true bill on the four possible indictments of Darren Wilson, the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO a few months ago. That means Darren Wilson won’t go before a jury in a trial for a crime - be it a charge of murder or manslaughter. He won’t be prosecuted for a crime. There won’t be witnesses cross-examined and a decision reached.

The grand jury’s decision not to indict is not the same thing as Wilson being exonerated at the conclusion of a trial. It’s a decision not to pursue justice further. It’s a decision not to bring before a jury of his peers the evidence, testimony, questions, that the grand jury examined. 

I don’t think there is a moderate response to  justice halted.

There are many places I want to point our attention. There are articles like this one from Five Thirty Eight about how rare it is for grand juries not to indict. There is the NPR summary of the evidence reviewed by the grand jury and made available to the public (with some exceptions). This article from the Constitutional Rights Foundation about race and the justice system is also helpful. This report from Think Progress describes how, based on the data we can gather, black male teens are 21 times more likely than white male teens to be killed by police.  

We can (and should) ask why St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob  McCulloch chose to put the indictment decision before a grand jury, rather than issue an indictment himself. We can and should put our minds to the task of asking more questions, seeking more evidence, clicking through the articles tweeted and retweeted and listening. We must be listening.

But we can’t listen from a mountaintop that doesn’t exist. We can’t listen from some comfortable middle, because the cries coming from Ferguson aren’t cries from some irrational or untenable extreme.

These are cries for justice.

-Hilary Yancey is a Ph.D. student in philosophy at Baylor University, where she hopes to focus her studies in bioethics and the philosophy of the human person. You can find Hilary writing about everyday life and faith at her blog:http://thewildlove.wordpress.com chatting on Twitter and Instagram at @hilaryyancey.