Ferguson: Justice vs Social Justice

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

The recent unrest following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri has revealed how much work remains to be done in race relations in this country. Granted, the more lawless acts have had much more to do with opportunism than anything else. But even with many of the peaceful protests there is more going on than just different views of race. There is a different view of Justice, and this shows the stark difference between Justice and Social Justice.

If we view the Ferguson shooting in terms of Justice, the goal is pretty clear. The investigation needs to be complete and unbiased so as to determine to the best extent possible exactly what happened. The key question is whether or not Officer Wilson was justified in shooting Brown. If the officer was justified, then he should be cleared of any charges. If he was not justified to one degree or another then, he should be disciplined or prosecuted as the evidence indicates. It all depends on what the evidence shows.

Sifting through all the evidence may get messy as there are already conflicting reports, but the goal is to determine what happened and then make the best decision possible in as objective a fashion as possible. That is Justice and thus, at the moment, those wanting Justice must wait for the investigation to finish before they can reach any conclusion.

The protesters did not wait. They are not seeking Justice, but in many cases Social Justice. Unlike Justice, which is concerned only with the actions of the individuals involved, Social Justice is more focused on groups, white/black, rich/poor, powerful/powerless, etc. Thus for Social Justice, it is important that Wilson was not just a police officer but that he was a white police officer, and that Michael Brown was black. By doing this, Social Justice seeks to transform the event into something far beyond just Officer Wilson shooting Brown, something symbolic of a conflict between White America and Black America.

When viewed in this fashion, questions such as was Officer Wilson justified or not become not only irrelevant, but inconvenient. This is because Social Justice not only views people as groups, but it also takes sides. Thus, rather than seeing an incident between two individuals where the exact details are unknown, Social Justice imposes a framework that forces these events to fit a predetermined agenda. As Billy Michael Honor, of New Life Presbyterian Church, College Park, GA writes, “Michael Brown’s death has exposed our transgressions and our iniquities as a country and a culture.”

It takes the events out of the objective realm where determining exactly what happened is both paramount and a matter of evidence, preferably objective evidence. Instead, it moves them into the realm of the subjective where individual details are not as important as the overarching narrative imposed on the events. In fact, when details emerge that conflict with the desired narrative, they will be discounted or even rejected if possible, as the narrative is more important than what actually happened.

When video emerged of Brown stealing cigars from a convenience store, Honor responds, “But we will not know that from him [Brown], and it is hard for some of us to trust any report from those who have taken more than 4 days to give an account. Michael was crushed and bore the punishment for being black in the USA for us all.” On the other hand, others, such as Missouri Governor Jay Nixon criticized the police for releasing it so soon. The real problem was that it was released at all, because it conflicted with the narrative.

To be clear, the video tape from a convenience store does not exonerate the officer. It is not even clear if Officer Wilson knew of the robbery, and thus if it played any role in his actions. On the other hand, Brown did know what he had just done, and that may have influenced his actions. Bottom line, the video is just one of many pieces of evidence that must be considered.

An additional and serious problem with Social Justice is the potential for harm because, unlike justice, it is not connected to reality. It may line up with reality sometimes, but at other times it won’t and when that happens bad things can occur. Thus in this case, when all the facts are in, it could turn out that this was an unjustified shooting; that Brown did have his hands up and was surrendering and yet Officer Wilson shot him anyway. If this happens and Wilson is punished, both those who sought Justice and Social Justice will be satisfied. But if it turns out that the opposite is the case those who put Social Justice ahead of Justice will not be satisfied. That is hardly justice, but again this is the difference between Justice and Social Justice, and why they are so often in conflict.

Aug 25th, 2014

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