By Luke Tripp
To understand why the grand jury in Missouri failed to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, we need know a little legal history: Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), was a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Dred Scott v. Sanford, Supreme Court judges considered this key question: Did the citizenship rights guaranteed by the Constitution apply to African Americans?
The Supreme Court decided the case by a 7 to 2 decision that Black people were not American citizens. They reasoned that people of African ancestry had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order and altogether unfit to associate with the White race, either in social or political relations — and so far inferior that they had no rights which the White man was bound to respect.
This decision continues to be the guiding constitutional principle of the legal system in the U.S. The grand jury’s decision in Missouri is evidence that the criminal justice system (CJS) is morally bankrupt. It confirms that the legal system continues to operate on the basic principle that “Blacks have no rights which the White man was bound to respect.”
Why should Black people obey unjust laws that do not recognize their humanity? Protests in the form of demonstrations, marches, rallies are acts of resistance against a brutal repressive system that targets and dehumanizes and assaults Black people. The political officials are calling for calm and acceptance of the decision. But to accept the decision is to legitimize the moral authority of an inherently racist system, which debases Black people. Government officials view Black’s people’s moral outrage as a problem that must be repressed and dissipated; they ignore the anti-Black function of the CJS that caused the outrage.
The CJS is used as an assault weapon and extortion mechanism against the Black community. Black people have a moral duty to actively fight against a system that operates to strip them of their dignity. Intense and widespread reactions to the grand jury’s decision are a source of inspiration for the Black struggle against racism and an indictment against CJS.
People who have a sense of what constitutes justice will not accept immoral decisions. Moreover, they will vigorously protest them. Paul Robeson, a Black liberation hero, reminds us that we “must take a stand” to advance our humanitarian struggle.
Luke Tripp is a professor of ethnic and women’s studies at St. Cloud State University. He welcomes reader response to email@example.com.