To Leonard Pitts: re your “no justice, no peace” column in the Miami Herald
You must read this
Twenty years ago today, my hometown burned. I had moved to Miami the year before and there is, let me tell you, something surreal about watching on television from a continent away as places you’ve been and streets you know are smashed and burned.
The Los Angeles riots happened because justice did not. They happened because a predominantly white jury in the far flung suburb of Simi Valley looked at video of four white cops bludgeoning a black drunk driving suspect, Rodney G. King, so viciously that even Chief of Police Daryl F. Gates said it made him sick.— and yet, pronounced them not guilty of any crime.
To acknowledge this is not to lionize the rioters. You do not lionize 54 deaths and a billion dollars in property damage. You do not lionize what almost killed Reginald Denny, beaten nearly to death for the “crime” of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong color skin.
But one need not lionize the rioters’ method of expression to empathize with the message they expressed. Namely, a certain frustration, a certain sickness at heart, a certain outrage at being betrayed by justice — again.
It is an experience far older than the L.A. riots — and as relevant as the shooting of Trayvon Martin. On the surface, perhaps, the two incidents have little in common: the then-27-year-old drunkard beaten so badly after a high speed chase that his body and mind still bear the scars, and the unarmed 17-year-old boy shot to death by a neighborhood watchman who thought him suspicious because he was dawdling and looking around.
They are not dissimilar, however, in one telling aspect: delay. It took a ruinous riot and a new federal trial for Rodney King to receive anything approaching justice. It took 46 days, uncounted public demonstrations and the appointment of a special prosecutor for that process even to begin for Trayvon Martin. Historically, that has always been the problem when African Americans seek redress of grievances pregnant with racial overtones. Justice comes slowly, grudgingly, and grumblingly, when it comes at all.
I hear all these warnings not to “rush to judgment” in the Martin case, and it is sage advice. Yet I find myself wondering: when is the last time I saw anyone who is not black look at one of those episodes where the justice system failed African-American people — look at Trayvon, look at Jena, La., look at Tulia, Texas, look at Amadou Diallo, look at Abner Louima — and say, unprompted and unambiguously, that thus and so happened because of race. Outside of the most far-left liberals, they seldom do. Even when it is as obvious as a cockroach on white satin, it is something most cannot bring themselves to admit.
And yes, I know someone wishes I should just shut up about it. I hear that a lot. Indeed, more than once, someone has actually told me there’d be no racial problems in this country “if you didn’t talk about it.” What a piece of logic that is: ignore it and it will go away.
Such people, Martin Luther King once observed, mistake silence for peace. Silence is not peace.
As we count the lessons we have learned since L.A. burned, count that as one of the lessons we have not. Here is another: Justice too long delayed is justice denied. As protesters often put it: “No justice, no peace.”
Sometimes, I wonder if some of us really understand what that means. With the L.A. riots now 20 years behind us and the Martin case before us, it is a good time to consider those words afresh, consider them in light of our noble ideals and too-frequent failings, consider them as if it were you, looking for recourse after justice failed you — again.
Because, you see, that slogan is not a threat. It’s not a prediction. It’s not even a warning.
“No justice, no peace” is a certainty.
Okay, I read Pitts’ diatribe. He clearly is not able to shed the color of his skin in likening Trayvon Martin’s tragic death to the beating by several white L.A. police officers of Rodney King. Pitts seems to have convicted George Zimmerman already. How did this guy win a Pulitizer? Oh, same way President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize? Skin color? How come Pitts did not jump on the blacks who bludgeoned the white man in Mobile, and the white man in Chicago, for Trayvon? I agree with Pitts, who seems to be a front man for Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson: we might see a L.A. riots repeat if Zimmerman is acquitted, except it might be in lots of American cities, large and small. And if that happens, I wonder if Pitts will justify that, too?
I still think the only way through this now is for Zimmerman to insist on being tried by a black jury, since he started this problem by ignoring the police dispatcher. If I were Zimmerman’s lawyer questioning a black jury pool on voir dire, I would ask each of them if they are Christians? Those who say yes, I would ask if they swear on their life and souls, with Jesus and God as their witnesses, that they will return a verdict based on the facts and the law, as the judge instructs them, and not based on their skin color? If they say yes, I will accept them as jurors, subject to the prosecution accepting them. If any say they are Muslims, I would ask them much the same thing, with Mohammed and Allah as their witnesses. If they say they do not belong to a religion, or they cannot put their skin color aside, I would strike them.
Comes the question, what if Zimmerman doesn’t want to do it that way? What would I do if I were his court-appointed lawyer? I would tell him I could not in good conscience represent him, and I would tell the court that, and why, and ask to be relieved of duty.