A year of racial strife

Race Issues
by D.C. Innes

Posted on Monday, December 29, 2014, at 5:22 pm

It has been a year of scandal at home and horror overseas: The Obamacare rollout debacle. Deadly neglect in the VA hospital system and cover-up. Unfolding news of abuse in the IRS and cover-up. More light on the Benghazi slaughter and the ensuing cover-up. In the Middle East, the even more monstrous ISIS replaced al-Qaeda as the focus of jihadist evil the world.

But sadly, we will perhaps most remember 2014 for its racial strife. People were already on edge from the shooting of young Trayvon Martin in a violent scuffle with George Zimmerman, a civilian community patroller in a gated Florida neighborhood. After Martin’s death in February 2012, there ensued nationwide public furor over why Zimmerman was not charged. President Obama himself spoke on the matter. Zimmerman was eventually charged with murder a few months later but acquitted the next year.

In April and May of this year, secretly recorded racist remarks by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling about his players further sensitized people to the problem of lingering racism in the United States. Then in July on Staten Island, N.Y., Eric Garner died of heart failure after police applied a choke hold from behind the 6-foot-3-inch, 350-pound man because he resisted arrest over loose cigarette peddling. It was all on video.

But tensions blew up in August with the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., after he assaulted a police officer and struggled to get the officer’s gun. The community erupted in rage, rioting for several days.

The year ended with explosive public responses to two grand juries declining to bring charges in the Garner and Brown deaths. After the grand jury announcement in St. Louis, a week of burning and looting followed in nearby Ferguson. A similar decision by a Staten Island grand jury prompted protest marches in cities across the country, with protesters chanting, “Black lives matter,” and the shutting down of streets and bridges.

These tensions involve a maze of complex issues like family breakdown, sexual license and unwed motherhood, poverty, welfare policy, crime and the policing it invites.

But mobs are notoriously insensitive to such complexities and uninquisitive as to facts. The demand for mob justice should frighten us all. Eric Garner’s daughter posted (with obvious intent) the address of an officer who was present at her father’s arrest. The policeman who shot Michael Brown is a man in hiding. These protests present themselves as justice-driven (“No justice, no peace!”), but they’re the opposite. Love for justice embraces the rule of law and does not stand idly by while small businesses are looted.

The crowds in Ferguson were quick to believe local claims that Brown was shot surrendering on his knees with his hands up. Protesters chanted “Don’t shoot!” with their hands up, fueling the anger, even after physical evidence disproved this narrative.

Mob justice is as dangerous to the public good as rogue cops and racial bias in the judicial system. The rule of law is all that stands between us and the sort of horrors we read about overseas. 

D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics. He is a former WORLD columnist.

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