The news that came after the ‘grand’ deliberation of the jury last night in response to the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO wasn’t one bit surprising. It did, though, feel like an electroshock of seismic magnitude.
Although it’s obvious that a judicial system that gives the same definition of ”personhood” to multinational corporations as it does to an actual person is rigged and corrupt to the core, it was a shocking verdict given the public outcry revolving around the case, the popular mobilization and the massive sensitization campaign that swept like wildfire throughout communities in the United States.
It seemed more like a sermon on the benefits of the system: St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s tone was that of a bureaucrat, dishing-out bunches of reports, pharisaic evidence and physical proof, in his attempt to make us believe that officer Darren Wilson was right to murder in cold blood an 18-year-old Afro-American male for the crime of stealing a box of cigarillos. McCulloch said time after time that the accounts conveyed by the witnesses were contradictory, that it was all speculation and that, all in all, the legitimate fear that Afro-Americans (and others) have of the judicial system (one that not that long ago was the firewall of segregation) were unfounded, in other words, ridiculous.
McCulloch, a white, middle-aged man, was standing in front of the cameras last night speaking from the top of his altar down to the amassed crowds of Afro-American residents of Ferguson. It was the perfect metaphor for the hypocrisy of the entire situation. The subaltern can’t not speak. That was the message that rang out, the message that was supposed to quell once and for all the riots that had engulfed the impoverished St. Louis suburb since mid-August.
McCulloch was merely the avatar of a system, the message wasn’t his or that of the members of a jury, it was the message of law. Once McCulloch, from his prestigious position, with all the lights and the cameras driven on him, spoke, that was the word of ”god”: the word that would twist, turn and bend reality to fit its image that we had adjusted for it. In this reality, the people of Ferguson — their anger, their sorrow, their sense of alienation, their profound frustration — don’t fit within the canvas. It’s almost as if this new deity of law could remake events to suit its own pre-established narrative.
It was a thorough investigation, they say, and out of the 162 000 cases that involved grand juries in 2010 only 11 decided not to return an indictment. But beyond that, there is a profound difference between indictment and conviction. In no measure was it the Grand Jury’s role to convict officer Darren Wilson of murder or manslaughter, voluntary or involuntary but to examine if there were grounds to… Were there grounds? I wonder…
Is the fact that a police officer shot an unarmed teenager several times with forensic evidence that the teenager was shot in the back considerable grounds for indictment? Is the fact that there are several contradictory accounts of the events sufficient grounds for a more in depth investigation through a full trial? The fact that the corner store from which Michael Brown supposedly stole the infamous box of cigarillos that would cost him his life denies that they called in law enforcement, is that grounds for indictment? Maybe the fact that his corpse was left 4 1/2 hours in broad day light, terrorizing the entire community, is reason for indictment on the grounds of negligence?
Forget all of that. There are sufficient grounds in the fact that every 28 hours, an African-American is shot dead by American law enforcement or vigilantes. Let’s shed a bit of light here. Michael Brown’s death is not the first and not the last brutal murder of a young Afro-American at the hands of the police and thus Officer Wilson should have been indicted and convicted within this framework. Unfortunately, the message sent back from the grand jury’s non-indictment was clear: it’s okay for the police to use lethal force against subaltern groups.
It’s okay for Americans to exploit the working force of millions of ”illegal” immigrants and treat them inhumanely. It’s okay for American law enforcement to kill in cold blood young and poor African-Americans, such as 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot dead while in a playground, playing. It’s okay to take the poor and toiled to court when they fraud welfare, but when the banks make millions in bonuses and stash them off in the Bahamas to avoid taxation, it’s also okay. It’s illegal in most places to smoke or deal weed to a make a few extra bucks but when too-big-to-fail financial institutions launder blood money from cartels, that’s okay.
This is the state of our judicial systems, that the mainstream media uphold this veil of ideology that casts law as the ultimate truth and the maker and breaker of reality. What is law is truth, what is law is real, all the rest is nonsense…
But ”law” is nothing else than the crystallization of subjective interests. You only have to look at those who benefit from the law, you only have to take a look at the barriers that allow some to have a greater access to justice than others, to see that law is merely the crystallization, in many ways, of ideology.
In this sense, the grand ideal of the American Dream found its wreckage on the rocks of the grand jury. The ideology that uses the symbols of equality, liberty and freedom in practice abides by the notion that some are more equal than others, that everyone has the right to speak but only a few to be heard and if you’re never heard, the question is did you ever speak in the first place?
Law is always the structuring framework of ideology. Example laws vary in countries with different ideologies and forms of law vary in different times, but law is always the subject of the reigning ideology and the economic and social elites. That’s why banks used tight debt laws as leverage on the poorest sections of American society and yet no law could jail the bankers that knowingly, maybe even willingly, instigated the economic downturn.
Law is a silex shaped by ideology, a tool of legitimization of violence, used to keep the subaltern under the grip of the ideological apparatus. Law defines what violence is legitimate in Webberian terms and what violence isn’t, what special interests can use coercive force and what forces have to be denuded of their coercive force.
That’s why the tears, the anguish, the blood, the misery and the voices of the subaltern are rarely taken into account in ”legal” terms. We are tricked into believing that Lady Justice is blind-folded. Justice isn’t blind, it’s blinding.
A luta continua.
Photo used under Creative Commons by Loavesofbread.