Quick Take: When Justice Isn't Justice, or Something Like That

Officer involved shootings of black people, particularly young black men, are so common these days that the names of the victims become household names just as much as professional athletes, celebrities, and politicians. We know them all, if not by heart then by hearing their names listed:

Eric Garner.

Trayvon Martin.

Mike Brown.

Sandra Bland.

Akai Gurley.

Tamir Rice.

Walter Scott.

Laquan McDonald.

Freddie Gray.

Renisha McBride.

Tragically, another name was added to that list yesterday:

Alton Sterling. 37 years old. He died on his back in the parking lot of a convenience store. And because we've seen this before, we know how long it will take for officials to collect evidence, interview witnesses, and determine whether or not to indict the officers involved. And because we've seen this before, we know how unlikely it is that indictment will come. And because we've seen this before, we won't be surprised when people call this a "failure of our justice system," that the officers will get "...a pass based on politics, pure and simple," and that "our system is rigged."

Whoops. My mistake. Those quotes aren't about police shootings, they're about FBI Director James Comey's recommendation that no charges be brought against Hillary Clinton for her email scandal. The quotes above come from Rep. Roger Williams, R-TX, Sen. David Vitter, R-LA, and Donald Trump, respectively. People are mad, they're shocked, and they're not satisfied with this outcome. As I'm writing this, the media is reporting that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan wants to call Comey to testify before Congress about his recommendation and role in the FBI's investigation. CNN reported Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX, as saying, "If (Clinton) were a Republican, she would be indicted." I believe the anger of Republican officials, as well as ordinary citizens, is very real and sincere. It only makes sense. Because when you're denied a justice that seems so obvious to you, how can you not be outraged?

Because when you're denied a justice that seems so obvious to you, how can you not be outraged.


Watching these events unfold simultaneously, I can only hope that those Americans outraged by the FBI and Clinton may also understand the outrage black families in America feel when the killers of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and now Alton Sterling, inevitably avoid indictment. Perhaps they already do—my fear is that not enough do.

In the news and in social media, too often the voices crying for Clinton to be held accountable are the same voices finding ways to excuse officers' accountability in shootings of black citizens. With these two events unfolding at the same time, I can't help but notice the parallels, the coincidence, between these kinds of anger and outrage. I can't help but wonder if the kind of intense scrutiny leveled against presidential candidates over improper email usage were equal to the scrutiny leveled against law enforcement officers over shootings of black people, then perhaps the list of names above would be shorter—or at least not grow so rapidly. There seems to be a window of empathy between these events through which people could see each other more caringly, lovingly, humanly. I wonder how many people are looking?

Because I am not a lawyer, I am not here to defend or indict Hillary Clinton on her use of email. Because I am neither lawyer nor police officer, I am not here to assess the legality of the force that was used to subdue Alton Sterling. Yet in the end, Hillary is free and Alton is dead. Everyone is outraged.

However, because I am a young black man, I will hesitate a bit longer before leaving my house today, once again reminded how much more likely it is for my life to be taken from me than so many others around me; once again reminded how much more likely it is there could be a day when my mother, father, sister, and brother hold a press conference before the media, and I'm not there; how likely it is they may have to fight through tears to try to convince the nation I was a good person, that I didn't deserve what happened to me; how likely it is the nation will barely listen.

Cameron BarnettComment