Can There Be Justice?
Just like most of Black America, I dedicated some time this weekend to watch Ava DuVernay’s limited series on Netflix entitled When They See Us. It took me a minute to actually sit down and watch it. I have to admit that I look to tv and movies to entertain and inspire. I don’t enjoy reality-based programming. I am also not one to watch the daily video installment of negative interactions between police and minority communities that seem to take over our social media feeds. Some people watch it and feel inspired to action however when I watch items like this it just burdens my soul. Because of that let me just say it took me a while to watch the series. And to be honest, the only reason I watched it is because my hubs wanted to see it and he was growing tired of waiting on me. Now that I’ve watched it, I’m not going to write a series of essays about the show. Everyone has done that. Instead, I am going to tell you about how this one amazing piece of work evoked very different reactions in my household and how those reactions are representative of the African American community’s tumultuous relationship with the criminal justice system.
While my hubs watched the show, he posted this on social media “Through the eyes of a Black man, Black father, Black police officer. Do NOT encourage your children to talk to or trust law enforcement in a situation where they are considered a suspect. The law is NOT there for them. Detectives CAN lie and will lie to get information. There is no such thing as justice. 13 years of being a cop has taught me that. I look forward to completing the series…” Now look, I am married to the man so I’ve known his views for awhile now however the line “There is no such thing as justice” made me sad. But before I tell you why, let me give you a brief history lesson about our differing points of view throughout the years.
Twenty-plus years ago we were both working in media - he in radio and me in broadcast news. As a Black couple who attended the best HBCU in the world, we had very similar ideas about the criminal justice system. I dare say that we both believed that the CJ system was inherently biased and that anyone involved in the said system was corrupt. A bit harsh, I know but that is the white and black idealism of being in our early 20’s.
But 20’s turn into 30’s and we professionally evolved into a TV news manager (me) and a police officer (him). So, here I am a Gen Xer journalist who views everything with distrust and he basically became “the man.” In my eyes, he was an agent of the system. His viewpoint changed so much that if I could barely recognize him. Looking back, I can understand why. People don’t call the police to give them a hi-5. People call the police when something has gone horribly wrong. Chris came into folks at their worst and I believed it changed his POV about people. As a journalist, I felt that I was a champion of the people whose job it was to point out corruption in 1:15 sec breaking news segments. Because of this, I started to avoid any conversation about justice.
Then 5 years ago, I joined a government criminal justice agency and the hubs was experiencing some difficulties at work. His ideas about the criminal justice system were crumbling and for me, I was finally getting a real look behind the veil and gaining more understanding about how the justice system works. What I saw tore down my black and white ideas and showed me shades of grey, lots and lots of grey. However, Chris was becoming more and more disenchanted with the system.
So that brings us to today… to the “there is no such thing as justice” line. Look, I have no issue with us having differing opinions. Seriously, no one wants a clone. However, for me this line is problematic. Here’s why… If you truly believe there is no such thing as justice, then we should just give up and all become ex-pats. But if we are going to stay in this country, then we have to work to make justice more just. This is not just for Black people or people of color, but for all people regardless of race or socio-economic status. This requires us to believe that there can be justice and that we must work to ensure that it comes to pass. We must learn about the criminal justice system. We must advocate for a better criminal justice system. We must take positions working in the justice system. We must vote for EVERY election. And we must be watchdogs and pay attention to the system. What we cannot do is walk around filled with rage every day, sharing our angst on social media, without truly working for a better system. In my opinion, justice is nuanced and there is such a thing as justice if we keep fighting for it.