On September 15, 2017, another white policeman was acquitted in the murder of an (very likely) unarmed black man, this time here in St Louis, Missouri. Now if you're black, you could have a range of reactions, but there are two emotions I will not permit you – shock or surprise. You couldn't have honestly entertained the possibility that this could or would end with a different outcome.
The U.S. Constitution created the governing framework for the American republic but it's the Declaration of Independence that provided the raison d’être (reason to be) for the republic’s creation.
The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence begins, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” While most are familiar with this beginning they are totally ignorant of what Jefferson writes next: “That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed; That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,”
Much like Pharaoh, Jefferson condemns the government he founded with his own words. You see this oft-referred to “American Experiment” was not founded upon the principles that Jefferson espoused in the Declaration, but on the pernicious and malevolent idea of white male privilege (WMP). No amount of rhetorical embellishment will change the fundamental character of the founding of the United States. If you sprinkle sugar on a pile of manure, it's still a pile of manure.
The exploitation and oppression of people of color are fundamental to the American experience. While Jefferson was never the epitome of his words, it doesn't change the importance of what he wrote to the development of human history. He codified the intrinsic value of all human life and further stated that the sole purpose of government is to secure and ensure that value. He also did something equally as important: He established as a national founding principle that when government undermines or negates these inalienable rights, the People have a moral responsibility to change or abolish that government.
No matter what legal rationalizations are used, the Jason Stockley verdict is one more reminder that the effective purpose of American law is to maintain the order of WMP. So everyone in the streets protesting that verdict had a moral duty to be there on behalf of our collective humanity, establishing, once again, that this order governs without our consent and its power is not legitimate.
Speaking of the protests on Friday night, we need to address one more issue, the concerns of white moderates and their African-American collaborators. You know who I'm talking about, the “I support your goals but can't support what you're doing to achieve them” crowd. The definitive answer to this objection was written over 50 years ago and is as cogent today as it was the day it was written.
“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. … You would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from the Birmingham city jail on April 16, 1963.
“I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. ... I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to ‘justice.’”
I wrote this commentary so the young activists involved in the serious work of social change are not slowed by the need to provide a public rationale for their work to those of us not physically active in the struggle, and so they will know (if they care) there is substantial historical intellectual and moral justification for their position, and so they know there are some old heads who believe in them and uphold them.
Mike Jones is a member of the St. Louis American editorial board and the State Board of Education.