Justice was established in the preamble of the Constitution, immortalized in the Pledge of Allegiance and apotheosized in the Emancipation Proclamation. The symbolism of justice in America is that of a woman, blindfolded, holding scales in one hand and a sword in the other hand.
Lady Justice must have been incensed watching her antithesis run rampant, amuck and conspicuously, while ignoring flagrant offenses, violations, corruption and abuses. She had to be infuriated witnessing Injustice’s actions consistently yield decisions such as “not guilty,” “acquitted” and “exonerated.”
The sword that Lady Justice holds is supposed to represent that justice can be swift. The blindfold that she wears is supposed to represent impartiality. The scales that she holds are supposed to represent that evidence must be weighed on its own merit.
For African Americans, justice has been a sluggish, bitter oppressor, who needs cataract surgery. For decades, we have learned that, in some cases, evidence is weighed on its own merit. However, in many of our cases, evidence is sometimes thrown out, planted or suppressed.
The violence by police against African Americans is a reflection of an absence of humanity. The disproportionately populated prisons of African American men might be indicative of a biased or compromised judicial system.
The smug, cocky, unremorseful murder of George Floyd captured the world’s attention. We wondered when Lady Justice would descend from her throne and do her job. Not since the murder of Emmett Till has America experienced such egregious and outrageous conduct by people who are sworn to protect us and uphold the law.
After seeing George Floyd suffer for 9:26 minutes with the knee of a police officer on his neck, enduring 10 months and 5 days for the beginning of a three-week trial and waiting 12 hours for a decision, there was little faith that the scales of justice would weigh in favor of African Americans.
Judge Peter Cahill announced “guilty” on all three counts. Some people called the jury’s decision a verdict. Some people called it justice. Some people called it the same word repeated three times.
For African Americans, hearing the words “guilty, guilty, guilty” restored some hope in the justice system. It bolstered our faith in humanity. It also gave us an opportunity to take a deep breath. We began to process what the verdict might mean for our future.
Did the verdict mean that police would be held accountable for future incidents of excessive and deadly force, misconduct and brutality? Did it mean that police will become more creative in how they detain us? Did it mean that ill intended officers will be discouraged from applying for jobs and their colleagues will be more inclined to report them?
The deep breath we took on April 20 was short-lived because the next day, on April 21, an unarmed African American man, Andrew Brown Jr., was shot and killed by police in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
The police shootings in the wake of the “guilty, guilty, guilty” verdict served to retraumatize us, return us to a place of fear and anxiety and remind us that police reform is required. So African Americans continue to feel exasperated as some police officers seem to thumb their nose at the justice system.
We mourn the loss of more African Americans at the hands of a police officer. We march for rights and protections symbolized by Lady Justice, ensconced in the Constitution and written in the Bible, “… and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).
The verdict leaves us clinging to hope. We are thankful for the many allies who have locked arms and stood shoulder to shoulder with us against injustice. We are thankful that Lady Justice invaded the hearts and consciousness of the jurors and for a few hours subdued the antagonist who roamed the country seeking to devour African Americans.
We are thankful that we can experience what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Let us realize that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Theresa A. Dear is a national board member of the NAACP and a regular contributor to the Deseret News.