One Man’s Justice Is Another Man’s Nightmare: Thabiti Anyabwile on How Michael Brown Really Could Have Been Him

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile

Last night I had a twitter exchange–one of many–with an assertive brother insisting that I was biased in my view of the events in Ferguson and in my assessment of the grand jury process. We pressed each other on various points until we agreed that we could no longer hear one another and should stop for the night. I’m grateful we talked. And I’m grateful we stopped.

The stopping allowed me to process one part of our exchange in particular. My interlocutor at one point mentioned that it is government’s job to bring justice in the case of lawbreaking. I asked if he would give me a definition of “justice,” to which he replied “the virtue which consists in giving everyone his due.” My friend was certain justice had been served in the shooting of Brown if Wilson acted in self-defense. Brown, in that case, had received “his due.”

One Man’s Justice

On the drive to school this morning, the children and I rode mostly in silence as I thought a lot about our exchange. I thought a lot about the iron-clad certainty some people have in judging Brown’s shooting “just.” And I thought a lot about how that certainty is informed not by their knowledge of the events of that morning (my partner was honest enough to admit he wasn’t there and didn’t know) but by the menacing portrait of Brown and his family developed and spread in some quarters. Our conversation began with my friend asking me to comment on this graphic:

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For some people, “justice” depends as much on seeing Brown and family in this light as it does on any true evidence from the scene. We need a boogeyman Brown to assuage our collective conscience about what happened to Brown. And if we can calm the inner voice of righteousness in Brown’s case, then we give ourselves permission to conveniently forget that Michael Brown’s name is one in a long list of unarmed men killed under suspicious circumstances by police officers.

It’s not just “the media,” the major networks and outlets, that put together these portrayals. Everyday citizens and professing Christians do the same. Even law enforcement officers get in on the act. As in this photo posted by Marc Catron, a Kansas City police officer who mistook the Oregon man pictured for Michael Brown:

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The officer later posted a picture of the O.J. Simpson trial and wrote, “Remember how white people rioted after OJ’s acquittal? Me neither.” Last I read, the Kansas City officer was “under review” for violating the police department’s media policy. One wonders why this isn’t a more troubling and serious infraction.

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SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition
Thabiti Anyabwile

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