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Why the Grand Jury Decision in Ferguson Will Continue to Lead to Violence

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Everything I say below has been said before, but I want to make it clear that mine is yet another voice from outside of the United States added to the millions of others who are despairing about the events currently unfolding in America.

There is a recurring dream I have where someone I trust betrays me and the betrayal fills me with hurt and anger. The specifics of what that person has done changes from dream to dream but the feeling of intense pain is consistent.

when-you-areIn my dream, I pour my heart out to the person who has hurt me, explaining why their actions have caused so much damage. The offender responds by ignoring me and turning their back. The simple gesture of them turning their back on me almost hurts more than the original betrayal and the pain intensifies through sheer frustration as my suffering remains ignored.

Watching the protests, both in America and London, at the decision of the Grand Jury not to prosecute the Police Officer who shot Mike Brown, I was reminded of that dream. As I watched Mike Brown’s Mother receive the verdict, I saw a second wave of pain flow over her, almost as if she were receiving the news of her son’s death for the first time. Whilst most of us knew that the verdict would not have gone any other way, we all, deep-down held hope that for once- just for once- the outcome might be different.

But of course it wasn’t different, and now citizens across America, as well as those watching the events on television all around the world, are left with feelings of confusion, anger and frustration.

The verdict seems to have re-taught us a lesson which we hoped was out of date. The verdict taught us that some lives are not as valuable as others and that the law does not protect everyone equally. To know that your son, if he is a black male, can be shot and killed by a Police officer whilst he holds his hands up in surrender, and then know that the law will do nothing to prosecute his killer, is the ultimate sign that the law will not only hurt you, but it will ignore your pain.

When placed in the situation where your demands for justice are rejected through “legally accepted channels”, what options are you left with?

I, personally, would never advocate for violence. However in the face of such apparent powerlessness, as we see in Ferguson, I understand why people may resort to rioting.

The facts are this: Firstly, a young man was killed by the state. Secondly, history and personal experience tells us that the police, courts and politicians do lie, again and again. Thirdly, the statement given by Darren Wilson was flawed, and at the very least Mike Brown’s family should expect a thorough investigation and fair trial.

Without this, we cannot simply ask people to accept the verdict and move on. If we ask people to accept the verdict then we are asking them to accept that Mike Brown deserved to die. We would be asking them to accept the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. All of these deaths were unjust and collectively we know and feel that injustice deep-down. We know, as Andrew Boyd says, that our “destiny is bound with the destinies of others.”

Serious work must start now to create a law enforcement system that people can trust; that people know not to be racist and that does not kill an unarmed man. If these problems are not addressed then peaceful protest will no longer be an option for many for whom the injustice hurts too much.

Rebecca Joy Novell is a Qualified Social Worker working with gangs in central London. She graduated from The University of Sheffield in 2012 with a Masters in Social Work. Rebecca has been involved with Youth Justice since 2008 in a variety of voluntary and paid roles and is currently undertaking a Professional Doctorate in Criminal Justice. She was elected to the Professional Assembly for The College of Social Work, is part of the Criminal Justice Reference Group for the British Association of Social Workers and regularly blogs for The Guardian’s Social Care Network. She is also the author of Starting Social Work: Reflections of a Newly Qualified Social Worker. Her blog can be found at www.charitynovelll.wordpress.com.

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