What Happens When You Can’t Trust Your Institutions of Power?

I have been heartsick over the last couple of days. I was deeply disappointed in the way the Michael Brown grand jury went a couple of weeks ago, but I comforted myself with the thought that at least the grand jury had the goods on the officer who killed Eric Garner. They had the video, after all, and the coroner had deemed the cause of death a homicide. It was a slam-dunk, right? No, I guess not. I am still shaking my head wondering how this could happen.

I also keep thinking about the children—the black and brown boys and girls—that I used to teach. They are teenagers now. What must they be thinking as they hear the news and listen to the adults talk about these cases? How are they internalizing the messages, both overt and subliminal? Are they wondering if they are going to be the next victims of police over reach?

When I was a child, I was told repeatedly that if I ever had a problem or got lost or needed assistance of any kind to look for someone in a police uniform. The policeman was a symbol of safety, security, and comfort. I could trust a policeman. Gee whiz…my uncle was a policeman! Now, that teaching is suspect.

At the same time, I wonder at our judicial system as a whole. It used to be that the measure in the law was “What would a reasonable person do? What is “reasonable” these days? Can we really trust the judicial system to rightly measure reasonableness? Our own Supreme Court has deemed that corporations should be accorded First Amendment rights, so I have trouble trusting the highest court in the land to be reasonable, much less the lower courts that are driven more and more by politics and ideology than by standards of “reasonableness.”

As I watch the political pundits on both sides of the extreme try to justify their points of view, I just have to shake my head in sadness and wonder how much more division and disruption can our country take? When will more “reasonable” heads prevail? How do we work ourselves toward being a country that is reflective of the ideals we say we hold to be true…that every man—and woman—is equal in the eyes of the law. How do we demonstrate to the world and to each other that we truly believe that every life is important regardless of race, or class or color? When will we come to see the hypocrisy of our telling other countries how they should behave with regard to human rights when we so clearly live in a glass house ourselves?

I pray for our country. I pray for all of the families who have lost loved ones to police violence—or any type of violence for that matter. It is hard enough to lose a loved one to “natural” causes. I cannot begin to imagine the anguish of one who has lost a loved one due to the deliberate savagery or the gross negligence of another person. I am trying to understand. But I admit, understanding is slow in coming.