Let me finish with Attorney General Eric Holder’s report on the death of Michael Brown and the conduct of the Ferguson police force.
I start with the conflicting eyewitness accounts that found their way into the news during that whole tragic episode. People were saying things about what happened in those terrible seconds that spiraled into folklore.
People began holding their arms up in the air – in public acts of surrender – to make the point that the police officer killed a man in cold blood – killed him just because he was angry or out of some sense of racist superiority.
The Justice Department report found no truth to this public lore. Witnesses who had contributed to this picture of what happened could not stand up under scrutiny or, to put it another way, were willing to stand up for the truth, once they believed they were liberated to do so.
Look, this is awful, the whole sorry mess, but even in a sorry mess, with all the bad atmospherics of attitude, experience and reputation, we have to find the truth in the incident itself. Even when we find that there is a systemic problem with a police force we still must come to a reckoning about one instance of police conduct: what happened between Michael Brown and officer Darrell Wilson.
I was taught in school – by the Jesuits – that there are two kinds of justice, both of which we need to honor.
One is distributive justice, how society treats its various communities. Do the police of Ferguson, Missouri generally offer fair treatment of its African-American citizens?
And then there is commutative justice, the kind that governs the one-on-one relationships we have with each other. Was there this kind of justice, one-on-one justice in the tragic encounter of Michael Brown and Officer Darrell Wilson?
In offering a split judgment here, in hitting the Ferguson Police force for its day-to-day conduct but not condemning Darrell Wilson, the U.S. Justice Department of Eric Holder came as close to human justice as we are likely to get.