Last night, the grand jury in Ferguson returned its decision to not prosecute Ferguson officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown. Justice is not served.
I’m not really surprised. Justice hasn’t been served in this since long before Officer Wilson shot Mr. Brown. Long, long before. Better historians than I have traced the roots of current racism and back to slavery and reconstruction, and wiser commenters than I have discussed how the current troubles are at least as much about white anger at progress as they are about black anger about racism.
When I first heard the decision, I wasn’t surprised, but I was very angry. I still am, and will be for a long time to come, but at first it was the kind of anger that involves questioning the power and justice of the gods. That questioning led me to revisit the understanding that there is no natural justice.
We cannot expect the gods to give us justice. Oh, there are gods of justice. Among the Olympians, Dike is the goddess of justice. Her father is Zeus, one of whose responsibilities is law and order, and her mother is the titaness Themis, who is said to have first taught law to mortals. Other cultures and pantheons have their own deities of justice.
Yet we still cannot expect the gods to give us justice. If we could, the prosecutor arguing before the grand jury would not have been a man who raised money for the defense of the accused. If the gods could just give us justice, then Darren Wilson would have gone to trial, and either incarceration or exoneration, months ago.
The gods cannot give us justice, not in a way we would like. Myth is full of tales of gods punishing injustice, but there are few stories of the gods preventing injustice. When the gods do step in, the results are painful and messy, and collateral damage seems to be quite high. The gods don’t get directly involved until the situation is so far gone that whatever they do can’t make things worse.
Justice, on a human scale and human terms, is what happens when we mortals make it happen. The gods may assist and advise, but in this (as in so much, it seems) their powers are limited. We have to make room for them to enter the world, when and where we want them to enter, to be the vehicles by which divine justice can manifest.
I’m not suggesting anyone should take revenge in the name of the gods, or that people should feel that any expression of rage or violence against the perceived enemy is a holy act. Dike is not Nemesis, and the Horai (Dike and her sisters Eunomia, good order, and Eirene, peace) are not the Erinyes.
Justice is not revenge, or at least, not retribution alone. Justice is re-balancing the scales, giving comfort and redress to the victims as well as punishment to the perpetrators. Focusing just on the survivors of Michael Brown and on Darrin Wilson and those who helped him evade justice is not enough, however, because the current injustice is bigger than that. Justice here means also working to dismantle the system that perpetuates, encourages, and rewards this kind of crime. Justice here means also working to give aid, voice, and comfort to all who suffer under that system.
We cannot expect the gods to simply give us true justice. We must make justice through our own actions, in harmony with the gods and with their blessings on our actions.
We must make this right. No one else will.