Not Justified

As I prepare to teach about Ferguson on Friday,* and in the context of my recent reading in African American literature, I’ve decided to adopt a new personal position regarding the use of deadly force. From now on my initial reaction will be to condemn the killing.

This is not because I believe that the use of deadly force by law enforcement officials is never justified. It can be. But each day brings additional evidence that the scales have tipped too far in the wrong direction. Perhaps they always have been. Certainly the United States has a long history of treating black bodies as less than human. The standards we have in place now can make something as simple as ‘playing with a toy gun while twelve years old and black’ into a de facto capital offense.That is simply unacceptable.

In choosing this default response, I know that sometimes I will be wrong. But I will take solace in two assurances. First, it appears to me that I will be right more often then I am wrong, especially when deadly force is used against black people. Second, when I am wrong, I will be erring on the side of life rather than on the side of state-sanctioned violence. Considering my religious values, that makes this the right decision.



* I decided in the summer that I would close my U.S. history survey course (1877-present) with an examination America’s cities, using Ferguson, MO as our case study. Last week’s announcement of the grand jury decision has refreshed the town’s relevance for my students. Actually digging into this history to prepare for the class is no light matter.

[Programming Note: I’ve been blogging more regularly about my reading over at Since things have veered more clearly into the political there, I’m moving this recent post (originally published Nov 29) to this blog, which I think is a more fitting setting. I anticipate sharing more in this vein – political without necessarily being about the political process – here in the future.]

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