Is “Liberty and Justice for All” Only an Illusion?

By Ayanna Thompson


Last night (May 17, 2017), Betty Shelby — the Tulsa, Oklahoma policewoman who killed unarmed Terrence Crutcher last year — was found not guilty of first-degree manslaughter.

Last month, unarmed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was shot and killed by police in Texas as he left a house party with his brothers and their friends.

And in the last several years, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland (and on and on …) met similar fates.

It makes a brown-skinned girl wonder, for whom is “liberty and justice for all” really meant? For whom is it an illusion?

Jordan Edwards, a freshman at Mesquite High School in Balch Springs, Texas, was simply heading home from a house party that had been shut down due to noise complaints when (now fired) police officer Roy Oliver, who has since been charged with murder, killed him. Oliver was inside the house sending the remaining teens home when he heard gunshots outside. Without seeing who fired the shots or where they were actually coming from — recently, The Dallas Morning News reported that that gunfire came from a nearby nursing home — Oliver ran outside, grabbed his rifle, shot into the car Jordan was in, and sank a bullet into the innocent teen’s skull. At first, Oliver claimed the car was aggressively speeding toward officers on scene, but that was soon proven false. It has also just come out that officers were heard saying the “N” word after pulling over the car Jordan was in moments after the shooting.

The Edwards family has filed a lawsuit against Oliver for using excessive force and against the Balch Springs Police Department for improperly training and supervising him.  Jordan’s family is hopeful, but they anticipate the road to justice will be a long one. After all, days after Jordan’s death, it was announced that Alton Sterling‘s killers — two Louisiana police officers — would not be charged at all.

And less than 24 hours ago, news broke that Betty Shelby is the latest to seemingly get away with murder. In a recent interview with 60 Minutes, Shelby actually says it’s Crutcher’s fault that he’s dead — it looks as if, to her, having his hands up, his back turned, and no weapon is a “threat” and a legitimate reason to end someone’s life. Meanwhile, a white man can go on a murder spree in a church, shoot up a bunch of people in a Planned Parenthood, commit armed robbery of a home, kill people in a movie theater, etc., and still be taken alive.

“Liberty and justice for all” can be a difficult concept to navigate as Black people in this country, but we have to stay focused. We have to be woke enough to be aware of the issues, but strong enough not to drive ourselves insane with fear.

“To be Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won’t destroy you.” -James Baldwin



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