In a matter of days, as I write this, the people of St. Louis (and Ferguson), Missouri will hear whether a grand jury has deemed there to be sufficient evidence to indict the officer who shot Michael Brown, a young black man, on August 9th. No matter what the grand jury’s decision, it will be powerfully felt across the country, and particularly by the family of the officer, the officer himself, and Michael Brown’s family. Reporters will ask once the court avenues have been exhausted: Was justice served?
I am reminded of the painful trial of George Zimmerman, not that long ago. I recall how Trayvon Martin, the young dead black man, was put on trial. I recall how the defense attorney attacked his sister for the “way” she spoke. The way she spoke of course was as a frightened, enraged family member. The outcome of the trial—a not guilty verdict on all counts—could hardly be characterized as just.
In the wake of both of these lives lost, one wonders what justice means and how many more black lives will be lost until we find our way to the waters of justice.
As Unitarian Universalists justice is one of the central values to which we hold. We are roused by the call to justice. We are a people spiritually committed to building a more just world. It’s in our core principles. And when Rabbi Abraham Heschel spoke about “praying with our feet” in the civil rights movement he might as well have offered the tag lines for Unitarian Universalists.
I wonder sometimes if the word “justice” hasn’t become like the word “god”. It carries power and weight. It validates the charge it companions. It is inspiring. And likely when uttered in a room of 100 UUs, there would be 100 very different understandings. And so often, as justice is presented in popular culture, there are only two sides to be taken, one winning and one losing. But I wonder when one really calculates the losses in Ferguson and in Florida, if we could see clearly that the pain is woven within both sides. In the words of the ever wise Eleanor Roosevelt, “justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.”
Does this mean George Zimmerman should have gotten a not guilty verdict or that the grand jury will resolve the Michael Brown case? Does this justify the violence perpetrated against Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin? Does it ignore the racism woven into American life and underpinning American wealth? No, not in the least.
But until we begin to understand the substance of justice and the corollary causes of injustice, it seems as Eleanor Roosevelt suggests, we will fail to develop justice for anyone.
So how would you define justice? What do you believe is the essence of this important value to Unitarian Universalists? Let’s explore the images and pulse of this thing we so desperately seek in our community.
Share your thoughts on Facebook or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you as we go deeper this month exploring justice.