Image by Rey Harris

America’s Obsession With Factions: The Real Issue With The Justice System

Last year’s murder of 18 year old Michael Brown in the St. Louis, Missouri suburb of Ferguson by police officer Daren Wilson opened the floodgates of conversation about racial tensions and police brutality in America. While these subjects aren’t anything new, sadly, the controversial nature of the case and the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent decision to not bring charges against Wilson has grabbed the attention of mainstream media and the American people. Everyone can agree – there is an obvious systemic problem that needs to be addressed, but the mainstream media has been orchestrating the narrative that incidents like these are strictly racially driven. This narrative is then echoed in debates about the incident creating various opposing views. This also creates tension and forces people to choose sides, such as blacks versus whites or blacks versus the police. It begs the question: can we unify everyone to fix the problem together? The answer is a hopeful yes, but in order to make this happen we have to begin focusing on the real problem – the blatant abuse of authority.

The issue of race is obviously relevant to this case and many just like it. According to the Pew Center, one in every 15 black males are arrested and young black teens are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug related offenses than young white teens. Cases such as this and particularly the murder of Treyvon Martin back in 2012 speak volumes about racial tensions in America that have roots that are centuries old. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult, sometimes even impossible, to prove civil rights violations in court. The issue of race is a problem that can’t be solved overnight or with newly enforced laws. However, one thing that can be changed is how our justice system handles abuses of power. This happens only by changing the narrative when it comes to relations between the public and the police, moving away from an “us-versus-them” attitude.

While statistics show an obvious trend of police brutality towards blacks and minorities of poor communities, the media rarely pushes the idea that police brutality happens to people of all races. In 2011 Phoenix, Arizona police officer Patrick Larrison was caught on camera body slamming an intoxicated 15 year old girl; he only received suspension without pay. In 2010 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania officer Eric Burke assaulted Dr. Anthony Abrams permanently damaging his vision. Both of these cases had white victims. A quick search on Google or Youtube will reveal numerous stories and videos of victims and abusers of varying races and genders.

When the Michael Brown story is brought up on major news outlets, the focus is heavily on the fact that Brown was black and Wilson is white. By focusing on race, networks such as CNN and Fox News have lead the nation into taking sides in the issue when it is really about all of our safety – how the police relates to the public and the flaws of our justice system. Despite a lack of evidence, conflicting opinions have been created over this case which has caused opposing factions to perpetuate certain “narratives” – was Darin Wilson a hero or a violent racist? Was Michael Brown a young, innocent victim of our flawed justice system or, as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee put it, someone who “could have avoided that if he’d have behaved like something other than a thug”? Unfortunately, these speculations have gotten us nowhere but slandering the names of those involved, and the factions created from this mess have only deterred us from focusing on possible solutions.

One has to imagine what kind of difference it would have made if race was not the main topic of agenda on all of the major news outlets. Instead of focusing on the aspects that make us all different (i.e. race), what if media outlets reported the Michael Brown case without once mentioning the color of Brown or Wilson’s skin? It begs the question, would this be a case about race if the media had not dictate it as such? As Brown’s mother proclaimed after finding out officer Wilson would not be indicted by a grand jury, “this could be your child”. Without trying to interpreter the words of Mrs. Brown, it does bring to mind the notion that anyone is susceptible to police brutality no matter what their skin color is, which leaves no one person exempt from this conversation and suggests that everyone can relate and manifest concern about the Michael Brown case.

The concept of authority is a universal sociological phenomenon that applies to every social creature. In his book You May Ask Yourself, Dalton Conley defines authority as, “the justifiable right to exercise power”. He then goes on to state that the paradox of authority – “although the state’s authority derives from the implicit threat of physical force, resorting to physical coercion strips the state of all legitimate authority”. While “to protect and serve” is a justifiable means of granting officers authority, any time that authority is abused or misused it should be addressed as such with full accountability. We know as a nation that this kind of “protect and serve” police officers are entrusted with is being abused. It is the responsibility of government officials, activists, and citizens to realize this corruption and take steps to rise against it as a single unit and not allow the media to infiltrate its agenda upon us that seeks to divide us on a racial, socioeconomic, or gender basis.

The American people have a duty to join together in finding common ground and a solution to push for change. Transparency created by the internet has given us full disclosure to abuses of authority on all fronts and the ways our justice system is failing us by not holding these people accountable. Racism can’t be destroyed overnight, but the way our government operates can be. However, splitting people into opposing factions will never incite social change, but simply facilitate the status quo. In this new era of social cohesion, this classic saying has never rang more true – “United we stand, divided we fall”.