Executive Director Column 11/25/14
Listening to the District Attorney out of St. Louis last night, I was reminded why I dropped out of law school. As an idealistic student, it didn’t take long to learn that, increasingly in this country, the law does not always have much to do with justice. Or, at least with the kind of justice we are working for at CFJC. Or the justice those working on access to healthy food for our families and communities struggle towards every day.
Watching the prosecutor in Missouri explain how the Grand Jury in the Michael Brown shooting death came to its decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson reminded me of so many major verdicts handed down in recent years. Last night the justice served, served the predetermined plans of the District Attorney. The person reading a prepared statement bore little resemblance to awkward prosecutor interviewed over the past three months. Last night he was in his comfort zone.
We pride ourselves in this country, on “the rule of law.” And to be sure, without the rule of law the kind of chaos we create as human beings would be our undoing. But the rule of law is supposed to serve as a mechanism that protects the values we hold dear.
It should not just be a process that makes it possible for our elected officials to cloak themselves in righteousness; and there is something seriously wrong with the rule of law when it neatly sidesteps the question—why do we keep killing our children?
Over the past fifty years a segment of our population has rigorously toiled to change our system of laws to serve a world view at odds with the simple junior high school version of “we the people” and “land of the free” which many of us grew up with.
In our literature, and our movies, we continue to adhere to those messages; that the United States is the place where the individual is protected by our laws, by the rule of law. The fallacies of its uneven application make for good theater, and in most of our entertainment, by the end of the story our morals and values are upheld and even those Americans of Asian, Latino or African heritage see justice prevail. But of course, this is only in fiction.
Unfortunately, in reality we seem to have lost the will to even strive for that “more perfect union” that includes all citizens.
One of the many tragedies of the Ferguson Decision last night—and let’s leave out the question of justice for the moment—is that the passion play that the entire country witnessed over the space of three and a half months, peppered with selected leaks from the grand jury; the disengagement of the District Attorney and Governor; then the orchestrated police and national guard preparations; culminated in a 30 minute speech explaining why there will be no indictment in a case where a young man, an American, was shot and killed, and therefore there will be no trial. There will be no justice.
The tragedy I speak of is the complacency expected of us, by those who should be responsible for upholding the rule of law.
We should not be happy that we live in a country where our young people continue to be killed in the streets of our cities.
We should not accept that our legal system has been twisted so that matters of life and death do not even see the inside of a courtroom, if you are a person of questionable heritage, or class.
It is a tragedy that we are spoon fed the Ferguson Decision by a prosecutor who outlined a pretty good defense on the part of a police officer, completely abrogating his responsibility as a Prosecutor, because it serves his needs and world view.
To be fair, he is not alone. He is joining a growing number of politicians espousing a world view of equality for a class of people championed by many of the winners of the 2014 midterm elections, those politicians taking over state houses across the country. Equality and justice for some portion of the citizenry of our country, but not for everyone.
From time to time I have written about the kinds of injustices that are becoming pervasive in our culture. This latest example is perhaps a good reason to revisit and connect the dots.
In his remarks, the D.A. noted that he hopes the conversation will continue about how to improve our justice system.
Is he kidding?
Either he is particularly insensitive to the families struck by senseless violence, or he really believes he is the first official to come up with the idea of a need for “conversation.” Certainly, he has to be aware of the generations of families visited by violence and the lack of justice received. Why should marginalized communities wait for justice to be served, when our politicians do not practice leadership?
In other words, why did the D.A. decide to wait for this death to talk about addressing injustice?
And more to the point, what kind of leader holds a position of leadership without addressing the justice issues?
I usually write about the need for each of us to be accountable for the issues of food access, climate change, justice, and economic well-being.
But I never meant to let our leaders off the hook. First and foremost, we pay them to uphold the laws in such a manner that preserves human life, and especially, the safety of our children.
There is a pattern.
Our legal system has become a vehicle, used by politicians to serve their needs, and not the needs of our people.
How about we start with deciding that the incarceration of our children, and that killing them, is unacceptable. Our peace officers have a tough job, no question. But shooting and killing our children is not an option.
We need to have the conversation of values, and enforce our laws accordingly.
In order to get the attention of our elected officials, we all need to all speak out and insist that corporations are not people. And that money is not free speech.
We need to take responsibility for the actions and decisions we make, and how we live, and we need to hold our leaders accountable as well.
Over the years I have seen how uncomfortable some, or most people become when the issue of corporate control is raised.
It does not take a genius to see how the influence of corporate contributions and big money influences politics, and truly, our daily lives. I submit that with the 2014 elections, the levels have reached absurd levels.
Every day, prior to the election, I received numerous solicitations vial email and phone calls for contributions to counter the millions invested by billionaires and corporate PACs.
But what is even more infuriating, the day after the election a new round of solicitations began.
When many Americans struggle to put food on the table, why are we supposed to match the contributions of billionaires? Why are we raising money better spent elsewhere, to fund media campaigns?
We have to stop this particular madness.
The Ferguson Decision is likely to be the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” or at least the last straw.
We like to think that there is a pendulum in American politics, and that the country tilts one way or the other over time. I am sorry, but not anymore; it’s just not the case.
We are now in dangerous territory. And I am not referring to minor civil unrest.
We live in a country and time where money is the primary determinant of class, access, and yes, of justice. To believe otherwise is to practice self-delusion.
Voting every couple of years, or making political contributions, will not resurrect our republic. For democracy to survive, it requires a new level of engagement in your daily lives, over the course of the coming years.
I will be writing more about that elsewhere, because at CFJC we are committed to working with you and your community on solutions for taking back control of the food system.
But make no mistake—it is all connected.
We look forward to working with you in the difficult times ahead.
Yours in partnership and respect.
All the best.
Y. Armando Nieto
CFJC Executive Director