At the writing of this column, we are STILL waiting to hear from the grand jury, appointed by St Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch in Ferguson, Missouri. They have been deliberating for months now as to whether or not police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown on August 9th of this year will be indicted and stand trial for the teen’s death. The citizens of Ferguson continue to wait and peacefully protest while the Governor of Missouri has declared a State of Emergency calling in that state’s national guard. The citizens of Ferguson are being preemptively restricted and prematurely punished by their governor. Why? They are exercising their constitutional right to peacefully assemble and protest. What standard or tool of assessment is Governor Jay Nixon using to determine the danger and/or threat level to the general public that would cause him to militarize a community and create a state of emergency where there is no emergency present?
The ghost of Dred Scott hangs around Ferguson, Missouri. In fact, his burial site is only 4 or 5 miles away from the city limits and reminds us of the historic disparity of the law and the justice system in America. In March of 1857, the United States Supreme Court declared that all blacks (slaves as well as free) were not, and could never, become citizens of the United States. The case of Dred Scott v. Sanford succinctly was as follows: Dred Scott was a slave who had lived in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin before he moved back to the slave state of Missouri. Scott appealed to the Supreme Court in hopes of being granted his freedom.
The Chief Justice, a fervent supporter of slavery and intent upon protecting the South from northern aggression — wrote the Court’s majority opinion. He asserted that, ”because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue. The framers of the Constitution believed that blacks had no rights, which the white man was bound to respect; and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.” The Dred Scott Decision was one of the most blatant examples of the systemic white supremacist dogma that is imbedded within our nation’s laws and judicial systems, and it supports and continues to affirm the policies and procedures upon which our contemporary justice system operates. The facts, percentages and statistics document the gross and disparate ways in which justice in America is truly not the same justice for blacks as it is for whites. And that brings us back to the “waiting game” in Ferguson, Missouri.
What we learn from Ferguson, and continue to see is that the scales of Justice in America are severely flawed where its citizens of color are concerned. There is no Equal Justice under the Law, at least not in this present time. The ghost of Dred Scott is walking the streets of Ferguson, and it will take some time for us to put that ghost to rest. I fear, when the grand jury finally speaks…they will have only served to exacerbate the situation further. We have a long way to go.
Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D.
Founder and Artistic Director
The Conciliation Project and
Virginia Commonwealth University
Up Next Week: Hurry Up & WAIT!