The famous interchange between Pontius Pilate and Christ ends with the loudest silence in antiquity. Christ, the accused, tells Pilate, the judge, “Everyone who belongs to truth heeds his voice,” and Pilate, being the boldest of inquisitors, asked, “What is truth?”
That question baffled philosophers since the time of Socrates, and this trial was the perfect opportunity for the “son-of-god” to set the record straight and define truth for eternity, but Christ said absolutely nothing.
Ever since the silence of Christ the essence of truth has continued to baffle philosophers, and in today’s skeptical age any proclamation of absolute truth is scrutinized or dismissed.
Let’s fast forward to when Michael Brown, 18-year-old Black male, was shot and killed by a White police officer and riots broke out in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s mother made a television appearance, and the TV interviewer asked her what will restore peace in Ferguson. Brown’s mother said, “Justice.”
Of course, this fits with the slogan: No Justice, No Peace, but the TV interviewer didn’t accept—justice—as an absolute principle with a general definition understood by the public—no—the interviewer played the role of Pontius Pilate and asked Brown’s mother, “What is justice to you?”
Now, Pilate sought a definition to clarify confusion, but the TV interviewer was after a relative response, suggesting justice is the desired outcome of the justice seeker. But if that’s the case, the question becomes, if the desired outcome is not met does that mean an injustice occurred?
For example, recently a White police officer was acquitted of first degree murder in the 2011 shooting of a 24-year-old Black man that was suspected of selling drugs and led the police on a high speed chase in St. Louis. (The details of this case aren’t my concern, please feel free to look them up yourself.) The officer requested a bench trial and the judge stated, “This court, in conscience, cannot say that the state has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt or that the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self defense.”
Plus, federal prosecutors rejected an NAACP request to open a new civil rights investigation because the Justice Department already concluded there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prosecute the matter, but the Justice Department didn’t make an announcement to avoid affecting the state’s criminal case.
Now, at some point the judge stated his decision wouldn’t be swayed by “partisan interest, public clamor, or fear of criticism.”
But why did the judge make this statement?
According to the Associated Press, “Ahead of the acquittal, activists had threatened civil disobedience if the officer was not convicted, including possible efforts to shut down highways. Barricades went up last month around police headquarters, the courthouse where the trial was held, and other potential protest sites, protesters were marching within hours of the decision.”
If this is accurate, it changes the concept of “No Justice, No Peace” to “No Conviction, No Peace.” And whether the activists realize it or not, this course of action makes them analogous to the crowd that sought crucifixion from Pilate because they predetermined the fate of the accused. This is a dangerous precedent that no activist concerned about justice should set.
Back to Michael Brown’s mother. Unlike Christ, she answered the question concerning justice. She said it’s being fair and making sure the officer is held accountable for his actions. Her explanation is close to a dictionary definition of justice, and it has nothing to do with the desired outcome of activist.
The truth is, every time a police officer is investigated, suspended with or without pay, fired immediately, charged with a degree of murder, and put on trial, they are being held accountable for their actions, and if there is no conviction that doesn’t automatically mean an injustice occurred.
But then again, what is truth?
(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier. He blogs at email@example.com)
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