I spent a long time listening to the comments at our City Council meeting on August 7 on getting an RFP from OCSD. There were some good remarks pro and con. But I also heard a lot of the following:
“Support your Community!” “Strength in Unity!” “Unite, don’t Divide!” “We need to Come Together!”
Listening to this I was struck that the people offering these platitudes didn’t seem to understand one of the most fundamental characteristics of a real democracy. While I hate to quote from former Defense Secretary and accomplished pathological liar Donald Rumsfeld, he did once blurt out the truth at a press conference when he said “democracy is messy.”
The irony of course was that Rumsfeld said this in defense of the chaos he had just created in starting a very undemocratic invasion of another country. But, democracy is messy, and this messiness is necessary. Disagreement and debate are also necessary. Seeking information, such as an RFP, is necessary. And yes, prospective city council people and Fullerton middle-of-the-roaders, anger is necessary. It can be misdirected and incoherent, but in the presence of great injustice anger is a sign of compassion, not of hate. Anger is also one of the few options the powerless have to express their need for justice. So questioning the Fullerton Police Department’s entire existence may create division between the public and the police (though randomly beating and killing members of the public arguably creates a lot more division). But so what? In a democracy, healing divisions between law enforcement (or one law enforcement organization to be precise) and the public is not even close to the highest goal of government.
The penultimate goal of the justice system and those who administer it should always and invariably be justice. It would be easy to have a community which thought of themselves as unified, but tolerated injustice. Think of a country which experiences unity as it unjustly attacks and wages war against another country; or enslaves a race; or discriminates against certain classes of individuals. Think of unity as the rallying cry for totalitarian regimes past and present. Unity and community without justice is nothing more than the acceptance of injustice and oppression.
This is why the appropriate sentiment for Fullerton, or Anaheim, or Downey, or any community where law enforcement has been manifestly unjust is not “let’s all unite together” but “no justice no peace.” This simple slogan reminds those in power that justice is the primary goal, and there can be no peace until justice is achieved. If peace comes before justice, the likely result is that there will be no motivation to right past wrongs and to ensure future justice. “Peace” is desirable only once the conditions for peace have been established, and the primary condition is justice.
Another phrase thrown around a lot is “compromise.” Compromise is essential in any form of human relationships, including politics. But there are a few things which cannot be compromised, and the main one of these is justice. Remember, we were not too long ago faced with a situation in which police drove around Fullerton, randomly pulled people over, beat them savagely and sadistically, and then falsely arrested them. What sort of compromise could there be in cases like this? That police officers are given a mild talking-to instead of being terminated and prosecuted? What kind of compromise can we forge with those who would bludgeon an unarmed and innocent man like Kelly Thomas to death, or those who would shield the men who did?
It is apparent that the coded language of injustice in Fullerton is now built around the following words or phrases: “Unity.” “Coming Together.” “Compromise.” “Support.” “Community.”When you hear these words used in the context of our city be forewarned – someone or some group is conspiring to make sure that justice is not served, so that your rights will continue to be violated with impunity while those in positions of power and privilege are able to keep them. I don’t want to hear these words used by our elected officials or candidates for public office. I don’t want the “healing to begin.” I want to hear the following words:
Accountability. Responsibility. And most importantly – JUSTICE.
Or else? No peace.