No Justice, No Peace

No Justice, No Peace

In the summer of this year I was working on a novel about assassins and found myself unable to continue with it, putting it aside because the situation in Ferguson hit a little too close to home, and I couldn’t justify working on that book at that time.

I went back to it. I finished the first draft. My NaNo project this year is rewriting it to make it better, but once again, I am faced with a decision about whether or not to continue, or whether to put it aside.

For those who haven’t heard, Darren Wilson was not charged after murdering Mike Brown in August.

A twelve-year-old boy was fatally shot this weekend because he had a BB gun.

These are echoes of previous cases that have gone comparatively unnoticed; the latest symptom in a disease that has been raging for years. It is tragic, it is despicable, it is nauseating — and I’m sitting here, safe and sound in my room at college, reading this stuff on the internet. It doesn’t affect me. I’m British, I’m white, I’m middle-class, I’m small, I’m female. No cop seeing me on the street is going to think I’m a threat.

(Well. The evil looks I get from old ladies because of my undercut and leather jacket may prompt debate there, but let’s face it: no one’s going to shoot me.)

Because even if they did see me as a threat, over here, shooting people is not really something that happens very often. It does happen. When it does, people get angry about it. Riots happen. London is 2011 is proof enough of that; away from the news and the outside world on a boat in Norfolk my only source of information was highly melodramatic and exaggerated text messages from my friend Jacob, but I got the gist. People were angry, and when they’re angry, other people get hurt.

I’ve been reading the news — newspapers, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook. A thousand opinions, many of them alien and terrifying to me. There are people who believe that burning the American flag means you deserve to be shot, that you’re an animal if you do it. Today I learned that you can be punished in private schools if you don’t stand for the pledge of allegiance, even though in public schools you do have the right to peacefully protest.

(What even is America, that the pledge is a thing, and such an important thing?)

Justice, it seems, is absent from this world.

And it’s nothing to do with me. I would be happy to stand back and let the people it affects tell their side of the story, because it’s not my fight and I’m not the one suffering as a result. This is not about me and I shouldn’t be trying to make it so. However, staying silent on the issue seems a lot like ignoring it, and pretending it doesn’t bother me seems wrong. Because it does bother me. It bothers me a lot.

And as a result of it bothering me, there is an important question that does affect me: can I continue working on this novel of mine, where the protagonist is a clear anti-hero who kills people for a living? How? How can I possibly keep writing this? The narrative may underline that her behaviour is wrong, but the reader’s still expected to sympathise with her, if only because the rest of her life is so awful. But that doesn’t excuse it. It can’t and it shouldn’t excuse the things she does.I don’t know how I ever thought I could justify writing a novel where the protagonist kills a twelve-year-old in cold blood (because she does) and expect the readers still to side with her because she is everything that disgusts me in the real world. I cannot justify liking her because I hate myself even for thinking about it.

She is my creation and she fascinates me but I can’t let myself like her. Nor can I write a book that encourages other people to feel the same way because then I’m saying, “Look, you can like people who behave like this, it’s okay.” I can’t give people an excuse to root for the villains and I can’t speak out against injustice when I’m writing something that promotes it.

And yes, this is a dystopia. A messed-up, terrifying city state run by assassins where murder is a viable career choice and there’s no justice; where age isn’t a barrier if someone’s being paid to kill you. It’s not exactly saying, “Come to this city, it’s a wonderful place to live!” But the fact is this fictional place I invented looks a whole lot like the real world and I’m sickened by myself for even trying to write it.

I know that this has the potential to be a good book, but I can’t write it. Not right now. Not without hating myself for it. As writers we have a responsibility to send a certain message with our books and this book is irresponsible.

On the internet this morning I saw people call Mike Brown a criminal who deserved what he got (an eighteen year old boy, who should have been in college, shot while surrendering). I saw people saying that the decision is made and should be accepted. I saw people saying that black people should get over themselves; that the situation is symptomatic of racism against white people; that disrespect for the pledge and the American flag was disgusting.

They would take one look at my protagonist and they would like her. I would be giving them the excuse to side with the villain, to justify her actions, to sympathise with her.

And so I can’t write this novel. Not right now. I’ll find something else to work on until the thought of it stops making me feel sick, and until I can work out how to turn this novel into something slightly less irresponsible and messed up. Because I can’t joke around about how messed up Isabel is and the terrible things she does when they’re happening out on the streets right now.
I can’t, and I shouldn’t.

If you’re not angry about Ferguson, you’re not paying attention. If you’re not angry about Tamir Rice, you’re not paying attention. If you are not angry about injustice and racism inherent in the system, you are not paying attention.

So get angry.

27 thoughts on “No Justice, No Peace

    1. You can be angry. You have every right to be angry. Justice is justice, no matter whether it’s for us or for someone else. Corruption is corruption, whoever’s spreading it. Life is life and death is death. I’m angry about this in the same way I spent several years campaigning for Stop the Traffik — on behalf of people in a situation that I would never be in. I would never be trafficked to work on a cocoa plantation. But I benefited from it, because I got to eat cheaper chocolate. In the same way I am white and I benefit from a world that supports instead of demonising me because of that. Be angry on behalf and for and with.

      1. Yes, but the thought that I can be angry over something like this and MY voice will be taken more seriously because it’s from a white middle-class woman with access to social media is just a horrible thought. I have no right to be as angry as these people because I cannot hope to understand what they are going through.

        We can say and encourage a lot of things, but we can’t really DO much, can we? Nothing’s going to change until THOSE people are listened to and we’ve already seen what the system thinks of them!

        1. Your anger can take the form of signal boosting their words. Sharing comments and eyewitness accounts from people who are there. Signing petitions, donating to bail funds (if you can afford it) – using your situation to spread the word and the passion far and wide. It’s less about what you say and more about your support for others speaking.

          I know in writing this post I’m guilty of making it far more about me than I should be. I was conscious of that while writing and tried repeatedly to ensure that I was focusing on the issue. The fact is, I have a platform here to ensure that people pay attention – people who may not be following the issue. And I have a responsibility to use it. But, having said my piece, it’s time for me to step away from the microphone and use my anger to reblog and retweet and support the people who matter.

  1. As someone who (now, unfortunately) lives in the US, I felt an overwhelming amount of shame last night when i found out the verdict. You think that we’ve gotten this far as a nation, and whatever, but its this kind of crap that just sends us ten steps back. These more recent instances of violence and racism are echoes of Emmett Till and other stories from US that happened in the 50s and 60s. And it is just not what we need right now. We learn about people like Emmett Till in school (or at least i did, as a public school student in california), not because it’s just something to learn, but because we do not want history to repeat itself. I love this post. And to be frank, your original post about Fergueson, was the first thing i had ever heard about it. And i watch the news all the time, so I feel like that represents my opinions on US news and media. Also, John Oliver has an excellent segment about Fergueson (idk if you know him or not, but he’s pretty amazing and i think you’d really like him) and he talks about overzealous police violence. It is a great segment and it’s on youtube, so there you go. As an American i find our ability to chant “USA” over and over again to be a little wrong. We are not that wonderful if we let a white man walk free from killing an innocent black man.

    1. Yes, I believe I’ve seen gifs of John Oliver on Tumblr.
      Your remark that my original post was the first you heard of it justifies my reasons for writing these posts and I thank you for that: I’m afraid to be putting my voice forward when it’s not my fight, but I also know that my audience is not necessarily the audience who will be following news like this and therefore I feel like anything I can do to spread the word is important.
      History keeps on repeating itself. When’s it going to stop? When is society actually going to change?

  2. So true. There has to be a zero-tolerance attitude towards racism, and no matter how distanced we are from the even there are things we can do. I’m not one to hate on countries, but you’re right, this world is freakily similar to a dystopia setting. There’s so many, many things that don’t get acknowledged or are put aside by mainstream media and it hurts to see so much happen and not be proactive about it, y’know? Glad you wrote this, at least whoever reads this will realise what isn’t acceptable. Regarding your story – it does have a lot of potential. There are ways to mirror the disgust we feel with the Ferguson case and other news headlines and portray that in the book. But yeah, in simple terms, as a writer we do have to think about the message we’re sending out, especially if it condones the murder of innocents.

    1. Yeah. I think I’m going to have to be very careful how I approach the book when I go back to it, because while I always tried to portray my protagonist very much as an anti-hero, I could do more to ensure that comes across.

      Thanks for your comment. I’m always afraid to write political posts and support is greatly appreciated.

  3. You seem like a smart young woman. You should read the grand jury transcripts. It explains a great deal. They are available on line. Michael Brown is responsible for his own fate. He made some bad personal choices that day. Those choices caused his demise.. He wasn’t simply gunned down by a police officer with his hands up. I am adding the link for your review. I don’t like adding links to comments but I didn’t know how else to show you. http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2014/11/us/ferguson-grand-jury-docs/index.html

    1. Hi. Personally, I don’t believe anybody deserves to get shot, especially not an eighteen-year-old boy. I believe that he was innocent, from the evidence I’ve seen while following these events online since they happened. Even if he wasn’t, however, he still didn’t deserve to die. Nobody deserves that. I’m opposed to the death sentence in all its forms but in this case it shouldn’t even be considered justified. If he was a thief? A couple of months’ community service. Not death on a street, his killer rewarded instead of punished. And, as I have said, I don’t believe him to have been guilty of any crime. So I’m sorry, but trying to justify the actions of Darren Wilson won’t wash with me.

      1. A lot of the information given and repeated on the Internet was false. Michael Brown was not an innocent child simply stealing from a cookie jar in grandma’s kitchen. He was a petty theif, a bully and a brut. He used his size against the officer. The officer protected himself against further attack. Read the grand jury transcripts.

        1. He was a boy with the build to be a footballer who didn’t take up the sport because he didn’t want to hit people, according to his mother. I’m inclined to believe her word over the word of someone trying to defend a murderer by calling the victim a “bully”. Darren Wilson sustained no major injuries and earlier claims that he did were disproved. Yet regardless of that, my original point still stands — Mike Brown should not have been killed. Execution is not a fit punishment and it has no place in this day and age, especially under circumstances like these.

          1. I feel sorry for his parents. They lost a beloved son. A mom’s love is incredibly strong. You say his mom said he didn’t like to hit people. He didn’t have a problem shoving or intimidating the store clerk he stole the Swishers from. It was probably the first time he chose to steal a store?? If Michael Brown could turn back time, do you think he would have done things differently? Not beat on the police officer, not rushed him or attempted to steal his gun? Or Maybe he would choose not to steal from the store?

          2. The store owner stated that Mike Brown had nothing to do with the theft; the timestamps on the video don’t match up with the claim that it was him. However, that’s completely irrelevant. Stealing is not a crime punishable by death. Even if he did everything Darren Wilson claimed he did — in an unconvincing and inconsistent testimony — that does still not legitimise a response that amounted to execution without trial. That’s not justice, no matter how you try to spin it.

            My blog spam filter caught your comments and it wasn’t until today I saw them and unspammed them. It was not intentional censorship of any kind, but perhaps my spam filter is now sentient and has ideological beliefs. Since I don’t tolerate these kinds of attitudes on my blog, in future maybe I won’t unspam them.

          3. This is your blog. You control the content the public sees. If you want to put Michael Brown on a pedestal and raise your fist into the air against injustice then you do that. Michael Brown started the altercation by attacking Officer Darren Wilson while he was still in his police car. This is where the first shot was fired. Michael was shot in the hand. After realizing he hand been shot in the hand Michael Brown rushed at officer Wilson in anger. Michael was hit 6 times because he would not stop coming at Officer Wilson. Officer Wilson shot 12 times.

          4. I didn’t realise it was putting people on a pedestal to say they don’t deserve to be DEAD, whatever they did or did not do. I’d say being alive is fairly basic. It’s not a reward for anything.

          5. Michael Brown is DEAD because of his own actions. He is DEAD because he attacked a police officer. He is DEAD because he chose to make bad decisions and had no respect for authority. He is not dead because a mean police officer shot him instead of slapping him on the hand. There is injustice in the world but this was not injustice, this was unfortunate circumstance brought on by the actions of Michael Brown.

            This is what I have told all of my children. If you are not a positive influence to society, you are doing it wrong. Get an education, work hard and give back to the community. Respect authority. Respect your neighbors and their property. Accept responsibility for your mistakes and failures. Make amends while standing tall. Be proud of your accomplishments! Those who love you want to shout from the rooftops how awesome you are.

    2. There’s substantial evidence that he wasn’t even anywhere near the scene of the supposed robbery but… even if he had robbed a store, what kind of world is it where we shoot people for stealing?

  4. Hey Miriam,

    I appreciated the post and agree with you that we should be upset about injustice and that if there’s anything we can do to stop it, we should. It’s hard to let our hearts be soaked in the pain of others, when the barrage of tragedy is constant, when the broken lives innumberable, and when we still have to carry on our lives with some semblance of normalcy, but what is the other option? To lose our humanity?

    The way guns and racism are treated in America is horrific. The legal system is often twisted and weighted unfairly. Justice is perverted on a daily basis.

    Yet, I still say the pledge of alliegence in my school every morning and I encourage students to say it also. (I work in private school and no one is punished for sitting or not saying the pledge, but people are encouraged to at least stand respectfully during it’s recitation.) Why? Why would I pledge loyalty to the 300-something-million other citizens and our government when I so clearly see the wrongs they perpetrate?

    Because America has it’s faults, and injustice is an epidemic under-treated here, but it is stil a land where many people walk around with a freedom from fear that was not attainable in other times or places. It is still a place where I was able to grow up practicing my religion with very little worry about the “price” I would pay for it. It stil is a place where at least there’s a system to try to protect the basic foundations of respect for fellow human beings.

    I will not defend this country against the wrongs it commits. But I will be grateful for the good that it does.

    I wil cry for those in pain in this world, and I will try to do something proactive with the pain (I applaud your decision to stop writing Isabella, as something you can do), but I refuse to drown in the world of sorrow. That’s not what the world needs from us.

    On a totally different note: your post touched a raw nerve for me as still awash in the tragedy of a different homeland of mine.

  5. Hmm, you definitely have some interesting points here. Honestly, I’m inclined to agree with a lot of it. I think media has desensitized many people about the concept of death and killers–too often I see people viewing deaths like this as a simple political event, when really it’s first and foremost a tragedy that also happens to have major political implications. No matter what people’s opinion on this case is, the fact is that Mike Brown is dead, and that loss of life is an incredibly sad thing.

    Personally, I’m not sure who to believe at this point. On one hand, there’s definitely an issue with racism in this country, especially in the area where this occurred. On the other, Mike Brown was definitely a criminal. They have a surveillance tape of him stealing from a local store and physically assaulting the store owner, who reported him to authorities. But did he try to wrestle the gun from Wilson, like the officer claims? And can those main witnesses be trusted, after they swore Brown never touched Wilson, but photographic evidence shows serious bruising/swelling consistent with Wilson’s account of an attack? I honestly don’t know, and I don’t think I ever will. Too many people on both sides are allowing opinions to get in the way of the truth. And I think that’s part of the problem: We have two “sides” at each other’s throats, instead of approaching this problem in a united, logical way and trying to figure out together how to avoid horrific events like this in the future.

    All I know for sure is that this entire thing is tragic, no matter what actually happened. And I’m sick of this being seen as a mere political event–it’s a death, it’s a tragedy, and it should be respected as one.

    Anyway, I’m rambling at this point. Thanks for the insightful post. It’s always interesting to hear the point of view of foreigners, and it’s encouraging to see that other countries are interested in standing up for justice, even if the issue isn’t directly in their backyard.

    1. Actually, Wilson didn’t approach him because of theft. That came later, and the store owner has said repeatedly that Mike Brown had nothing to do with it. So even that aspect of it is seriously called into question. But yes: it’s a tragedy. A tragedy which sets a political precedent and therefore must be considered from the perspectives of everyone who will be affected by it, but also a deep and personal tragedy for his family.

      1. Agreed, Wilson didn’t approach him because of theft; that’s definitely an important fact. Although he did get out of his car and call for backup because of the stolen items he saw Brown carrying, and because Brown was wearing the exact outfit reported, so I think the theft still comes into play to a certain extent. But honestly, the theft doesn’t change many of the few solid facts we have. This whole thing is just horrific, and my only hope at this point is that some positive change comes from Brown’s death.

        Thanks again for the post. It’s very thought-provoking.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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