When Justice Should Not Have a Blindfold

If you’ve ever seen the virtue of Justice (Justitia) depicted in art, chances are that she was wearing a blindfold. She likely also had scales and sword, depictions of her weighing the arguments for and against, and the power of Reason and Justice together (that’s the sword). Our understanding of justice depends on impartiality and equality: “Equal justice under law,” our Supreme Court building reminds us. The blindfold is a significant symbol that justice is free from showing favor to one side or the other. That both parties have an equal opportunity to make their case. That each case has an equal chance of winning. That in this system of impartial, blindfolded equality, truer justice can be won.

After the events in Ferguson, MO, I think it’s time we took off our own blindfolds.

If you, like me, have wondered about what exactly has happened and where things stand, I recommend reading through an article like this one on Vox, which can help provide a bit of background and a chronology of events.

As you might know, a lot of the events have been followed and reported on Twitter, with thousands of tweets in the first days following the fatal shooting. (You can see a map of the Twitter activity in the first few hours from Fusion, here). There is a lot of opinion intermingled with the reports - questions about autopsies and the militarization of the police and the notion of a free press (when the press were not allowed to be reporting in Ferguson a little while ago) and peaceful assemblies - and from every direction this question of justice, this question of justice.

And this is about racial justice.

The New York Times recently published a story about a Times/CBS poll that examined reactions to the shooting and showed the significant racial divides in the responses. Authors Tanzina Vega and Megan Thee-Brenan write, “The issue at the heart of the unrest in Ferguson — the suspicion among some that a white policeman was trigger-happy when faced with a young black man — is also at the heart of what divides black and white Americans. An overwhelming majority of blacks say they think that, generally, the police are more likely to use deadly force against a black person; a majority of whites say race is not a factor in a police officer’s decision to use force. Forty-five percent of blacks say they have experienced racial discrimination by the police at some point in their lives; virtually no whites say they have.”

There were similar reports after the Travyon Martin shooting last year. According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2009, “More than three times as many blacks as whites said they had very little confidence in their local police to treat the races equally (34% vs. 9%).”

Pew also found sharp divides between whites and blacks in the aftermath of the events in Ferguson. According to the report published August 18, “Blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.” Wide racial differences also are evident in opinions about of whether local police went too far in the aftermath of Brown’s death, and in confidence in the investigations into the shooting.”

The report goes on, “By about four-to-one (80% to 18%), African Americans say the shooting in Ferguson raises important issues about race that merit discussion. By contrast, whites, by 47% to 37%, say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.”

I haven’t gotten into the report by the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch about the statistics of whites and blacks being stopped by police versus the likelihood that they are, in fact, carrying contraband. You can read the story here.

This is about justice. And while we - we the movers and shakers and organizers and students and doctors and farmers and … well, we, the ragged people of the United States - have claimed that there is equal justice under law. And Ferguson says it’s time to take off the blindfold.

This is about justice. I don’t want her - or me - blindfolded anymore.

-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.