Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, et Al.: A Survey of Emergent Grassroots Protests & Public Perceptions of Justice

By Okafor, Victor Oguejiofor | Journal of Pan African Studies, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, et Al.: A Survey of Emergent Grassroots Protests & Public Perceptions of Justice


Okafor, Victor Oguejiofor, Journal of Pan African Studies


Methodology

The paper employs both primary and secondary data and information from a related university course, library materials, and internet resources to describe and analyze the topic of "Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Et al: A Survey of Emergent Grassroots Protests & Public Perceptions of Justice."

Introduction

This past January 19, 2015, the United States, once again, celebrated an annual federal holiday by which the nation celebrates the birthday and legacy of the great Martin Luther King, Jr. who was assassinated in 1968. This federal holiday, which is held on the third Monday of January each year, was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. But this year's celebration took place against the backdrop of a spate of regressive incidents, across the country, which seemed to run counter to the letter and spirit of the civil and voting rights legislative reforms that symbolize a new era of de jure and substantial de facto racial integration in American social life, which was brought about by the Civil Rights Movement of the second half of the 20th century that was ably captained by the late Dr. King, among others.

To this writer, King's federal holiday is not a day for a self-righteous vilification of any particular community or group, nor a day for praise-singing any community or group. Rather, it's a day for somber stock-taking--a day for us, as a community that shares one national space, to self-critically ask ourselves how far we have gone in our various collective, institutional and even individual efforts to narrow the gap between where we are in our race relations and where we would like to be.

What is Justice?

The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is pleasantly remembered not just for his moral vision and advocacy for social justice but also for his spectacular oratorical elegance and philosophical profundity. One of his most erudite declarations is that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" (1963, p. 1). In his April, 1963 famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Dr. King also instructed us on why injustice anywhere must be of concern to all of us. In his words: "I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states ... We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly" (p. 1).

From time immemorial, legal practitioners, scholars, philosophers, public officials, religious leaders, national, international and global institutions have written and talked at length about the concept of justice. Ancient Egyptian philosophy posited justice as one of seven cardinal virtues, including truth, propriety, harmony, balance, reciprocity and order (Karenga, 2010, p. 203). Justice is a universally-applicable concept though it does not seem to hold the same meaning for everyone or for every community.

Dictionary's Definition of Justice

But what is justice? Well, as I prepared this article, I decided to take a look at how Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines justice. I found that the dictionary conveys several notions of justice. The first notion is justice as "the maintenance or administration of what is just, especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments," second, justice as "the administration of law; especially: the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity," third, there is a notion of justice as "the quality of being just, impartial, or fair," fourth, the dictionary defines justice as "the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action," "conformity to this principle or ideal," or "the quality of conforming to law," and finally, it defines justice as "conformity to truth, fact, or reason" ("Full Definition of Justice," 2014).

However, my further search for the meaning of justice led me to a more concrete insight credited to William Penn, described as "an early champion of democracy and a prominent Quaker" who lived between the year 1644 and 1718. …

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