For us to try to go back to tell black people in the community that justice is blind, they’ll say, ‘you’re right. It is so blind that they can’t see us. It is so blind to whenever something happens to one of us, we get the max if we don’t get killed first.’ And so, it is blind.
John R. Hatcher III – Quoted from LA 92
Civil rights leader John R. Hatcher III made this statement following the acquittal of four police officers charged with the assault of Rodney King. Despite clear video footage, four officers walked away free of all charges. As it turned out, footage alone wasn’t enough to see a black man nearly beaten to death by four white police officers. That day, justice was blind. Because many, particularly the jurors, only saw four human beings in that video. A juror was later quoted stating, “A lot of those blows, when you watched them in slow motion, were not connecting.” No doubt this is a chilling statement. Who were the police brutalizing? Apparently no one in this juror’s eyes. For all intents and purposes, this juror did not see the person on the other end of the police baton. Rodney King might as well not have existed.
Justice was blind that day, but this blindness did not come without consequences. The acquittal sparked the costliest riot in U.S. history, resulting in over a billion dollars worth of damages and 63 deaths. The riot itself was brutal and harsh, a result of the decades of blindness by the American justice system. The Los Angeles riots of 1992 were meant to be a watershed event, as Mark Davis of the The Nation penned in June of ’92. In the aftermath of the riots, a weary nation was supposed to finally see the decades of injustice it had inflicted on the black community. Sadly, this watershed event never materialized. As it turns out, very little has changed since 1992. American justice remains blind.
America is blind. Its justice is wielded in ways that are increasingly cruel and unkind toward those it fails to see. Lady Justice, blindfolded with the scales of justice in hand, represents the supposed equality of the judicial system. She is the enduring symbol of objectivity and fairness, a reminder that all people (no matter their color, creed, or status) will receive the same treatment. It is a remarkable ideal. But there is a fundamental flaw with it. This blindness can become an injustice. A blindness that no longer sees the other as a person, or as a human being, is neither fair nor objective. For how can justice be just if it cannot see me or you? How can justice be just if it continually fails to see suffering and injustice?
Lady Justice is a symbol of something larger. She has become the symbol of our cultural blindness. As a symbol she encapsulates our desire to be a nation “with liberty and justice for all,” while remaining blind to those that don’t fit within our definition of all. It’s therefore fitting that a blindfolded Lady Justice is our cultural symbol of justice and fairness. Our justice is truly blind. So blind that we’re unable to see anyone else.
Justice is blind, and it cruelly extends into the American present in ever new and frightful ways. Our inability to see the socially and economically marginalized threatens whatever moral fabric our nation still desperately clings to. Granted, this blindness is woven into the core of the American experience. The atrocities committed against Native Americans, the institution of slavery and Jim Crow, and repression of women set the historical precedents of not seeing certain groups. Indeed, the US Constitution still bears the marks of this blindness.
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 – United States Constitution
Three fifths of all other Persons. A damning example of our historical inability to see people. For until 1865, Southern blacks were not even seen, at least in the sense of being whole persons (its hard to make the case that you see me if I’m not lawfully considered a whole number). But for the United States, this is not particularly unusual. The Dred Scott case (1857) established that a slave or the descendant of a slave could not be an American citizen. The Dred Scott case is frequently touted by scholars as the Supreme Court’s worse decision, nevertheless it exists as a permanent reminder of America’s cultural and judicial blindness (as does the Three-Fifths compromise). Our blindness, and response to it, makes for a rather long list. Women’s right to vote (1920), the Civil Rights Act (1964), marriage rights for same-sex couples—Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), and many more are all attempts to rectify perpetual American blindness. Thus, we have a long-established history of being unable to see certain people as people. Moreover, this history continues to linger uncomfortably into the present. Our blindness wasn’t just a temporary condition. It is in fact a persistant affliction, one that at this point remains incurable. Perhaps it is a case of treating the symptoms and not the disease, but clearly at this point our blindness continues to contribute to our inability to see others.
It’s not difficult to find contemporary evidence of our perpetual blindness. Our justice and prison system reminds us of this very fact. Today there remain large disparities when it comes to police force and imprisonment for blacks and Latinos, a trend that has continued since the inauguration of the “war on drugs” during the Nixon administration. Nixon’s own efforts, primarily motivated by his own racism, removed blacks and leftists by way of the war of drugs. Such a trend continued through both the Reagan and Clinton administrations—the 1994 crime bill and “mandatory minimums” were particularly devastating. Consequently, what we now have is an enforceable blindness. Policing and sentencing policy literally removed people from existence within our society. It’s much easier to remain blind to those you don’t want to see once you’ve removed them entirely.
As it turns out, we’re extremely good at removing people that we don’t want to see. Better than most in fact. We’ve managed to lock up 2 million people, constituting 25% of the world’s prison population. Not bad for a country that only represents 5% of the world’s population. Nothing about this is surprising, of course. The precedent for our blindness was established long ago. The methods for employing this blindness have changed, but the strategic goal remains the same. Within America, there are people that we simply don’t want to see. Our public policies continue to testify to that fact.
Today, many ignored, impoverished, and oppressed American communities (those left behind after policing) are nearing their boiling point. For these communities, there’s not much left to hold onto following housing disparities and segregation, over-policing, and income inequality. Furthermore, decades of perpetual blindness add up leaving numerous Americans without even so much as a semblance of the “American Dream.” Black and Latino communities are essentially segregated, policed, and ignored until they pass the boiling point. Riots in Ferguson and Baltimore are testaments to what happens when we ignore people. Eventually they will want to be heard, to be seen. For some, civil unrest and violence are their only methods to be seen by the rest of society.
What’s even more disturbing is that we have developed a more nuanced selective blindness. We’re selective about who we want to see and where we want to see them. Thus, there are now parameters to where and how I will see you. We’ve established designated areas of visibility. How else can we explain why white people continue to call the police on black people in public spaces? The simple answer is that our public areas aren’t truly public. Our society finds it uncomfortable to see certain types of people that we designate as our spaces. For black people, it’s apparently not okay to be seen in Starbucks, Nordstrom Rack, Yale, or even the neighborhood. However, we’re okay with seeing black people on the field or court with a jersey on. That’s fine, but only if you don’t kneel during the national anthem. America doesn’t want to see that. This phenomena, where and how black people can be seen, isn’t new of course. Since the end of the Civil Rights Movement, we’ve seen neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and so on, informally designated socially as “white spaces.” Understandably, the boundaries of these are hard to navigate. Moreover, the penalties for violating these spaces are severe and hurtful. What’s politely called “racial profiling” can result in harassment or death. The lengths we’ll go to not see people are truly astounding.
Our blindness (either imposed or by choice) carries with it long lasting and devastating consequences. And yet despite the dangers, the powers that be remain willfully blind to the suffering of others. Such blindness is terrible and disturbing. And it establishes a dangerous precedent for the continuation of suffering. We’re so blind that we can’t see the destruction and devastation what we’re causing. We can’t see the effects that our actions and policies have on others. When we’re blind, we can’t accurately remember the suffering we’ve inflicted. Our collective self-induced blindness destroys our ability to see people. Noam Chomsky describes it as an “historical amnesia.”
Those who hold the clubs can carry out their work effectively only with the benefit of the self-induced blindness, which includes selective historical amnesia to evade the consequences of one’s actions.
Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral and intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that lie ahead.
Noam Chomsky – Hopes and Prospects
Our blindness is a weapon. It give us the license to continue the perpetuation of violence and repression. Blindness alleviates our collective conscience—out of sight, out of mind. One of the greatest lies we tell ourselves in America is that “I can’t mistreat you if I can’t see you.” Clearly this little white lie isn’t so little or unimportant. It eats at the fabric of justice and fairness both within America and abroad. And this is reflected in our current administration’s “America First Policy.” It’s never been a secret that America doesn’t care about the rest of the world. At least American foreign policy is finally being honest. We only see ourselves (with the exception of black people, Latinos, Muslims, the poor, refugees, etc.).
This blindness continues to expand. What began with the inability to see black people has manifested into a much wider epidemic. Granted, Americans (particularly the media) have never been very good at seeing people beyond our borders. But now it has manifested into a full blown denial of the existence of others. Quite literally we’ve become a blind nation that fails to see the suffering of others. And we’ve been fairly aggressive in maintaining this systemic blindness. Totaling nearly 400,000 people, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) was removed from Hondurans, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Haitians, and more. Efforts to maintain and sustain our blindness includes a plan to withhold foreign aid to the home countries of illegal immigrants, a zero tolerance policy for border crossing (including splitting up of families), and the threatening of a caravan of asylum seekers. Historically, our policies on immigration have never been just. Obama was after all nicknamed the “Deporter-in-chief.” Again, credit is given where credit is due, at least Trump is being honest about what he is doing. At least we’re not denying it anymore. We’ve come to terms with the fact that our justice is truly blind.
How much longer can we be blind? Truth be told, I don’t believe we can do this for much longer. Eventually we will stumble and fall. But, more important are the lives that suffer because we are blind. How many more countless people will we deny their humanity because we failed to see them? Will justice remain blind or will we finally see others in all their diversity? For I don’t want a justice that is blind. I want justice that finally sees others as people.
Dare we hope that we might find a cure to our blindness? Admittedly, this seems immensely difficult in a time when Trump’s support remains at an all-time high among American Evangelicals. We live in an era of blindness that extends across both the sacred and the secular. And yet, I hold onto German Catholic theologian Johann Baptist Metz’s hope that God still calls us to see others as subjects. I still believe that the role of the church is to fight for the right of all people to be seen, not out of fear or hostility, but to be seen in love. I long for the true counter-cultural church—one not transformed by fear, but one that transforms others by love.
The God of the living and of the dead is the God of a universal justice that shatters the standards of our exchange society and saves those who died suffering unjustly, and who, therefore, calls us to become subjects or unconditionally to support others becoming subjects in the face of hateful oppression, and calls us to remain subjects in the face of guilt and in opposition both to the dissolution of individual identity into ‘the masses,’ and also to apathy.
[The church] fights for the humanization of the people, for people to become subjects in the church.
Johann Baptist Metz – Faith in History and Society
Such a vision requires a church that is no longer willing to exist neutrally, but will instead remove its own blindfold so that it may enter into the struggle for justice and equality. For a blind church cannot lead the struggle for national and global solidarity if it is unable to see the marginalized and disenfranchised. It cannot support those it cannot see. America has chosen blindness, which isn’t surprising given its history. But will the church do so as well?
Christianity does not exist neutrally, without making a commitment, standing outside of or above the historical struggle for global solidarity with those who are discriminated against or are in need . . . It has to throw itself into this struggle with its motto of all persons becoming subjects in solidarity before God and with its refusal simply to pass off the subject that has already been socially empowered as ‘the’ religious subject.
Johann Baptist Metz – Faith in History and Society
Justice in America is blind. It suffers from a blindness that can only be healed from a renewal and commitment to a love for the other. Not just a love for some others, but all others. Therefore, I don’t want a blindfolded American justice. I want the justice of love personified in the person of Christ.
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
1 John 3:17
Lady justice may be blind, but Christ sees us all. I for one hope that we as a church and a nation will remove the blindfold of justice so that we may see with eyes of compassion, acceptance, and love.