Justice and the Van Dyke Verdict
The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. Prov. 29:7
The verdict in the Jason Van Dyke trial, was a watershed moment in Chicago and American politics. Some viewed it as evidence of American justice coming to fruition for a traditionally marginalized group. Others saw it as a sad day for police officers, setting the precedent for their criminal prosecution. Still others thought the jury, which convicted Officer Van Dyke of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery, failed to go far enough.
What can scripture contribute to this discussion?
It is difficult to ignore the obvious connections between this case and the biblical principle laid out in Proverbs 29. McDonald, a ward of the state, with no wealth, family, or major support structure was not considered a model young man by any accounts. His short life reflected the kind of deviance that makes demonizing him relatively simple. However, this is why his story so tragic.
McDonald is the exact kind of person that deeply required society's justice in life and now even more in death.
By definition, the concept of justice means "acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright and good, conforming to a standard of correctness, or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments". Providing justice for the poor and disenfranchised is a biblical priority because, by nature, we tend to overlook this group. Universally, humans have always heaped respect and admiration on the rich and powerful. They are consistently deemed worthy of our highest levels of veneration. The life of a teenage, African-American, poor, orphaned, drug-user is easily devalued in most circles. For this reason, it wasn't difficult for Van Dyke to shoot repeatedly because he subconsciously recognized McDonald's societal lack of worth. Imagine the potentially different police reaction if McDonald was an ostensibly wealthy and drugged out bar-hopper in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood.
Race and class are as much a part of the American identity as they have ever been. The infamous videotape, which clearly displayed an excessive use of force, was perceived differently based on who was watching. Those who could empathize with McDonald and his identity had a drastically different reaction than those that connected with Van Dyke. However, justice is not about tribal divisions and class-informed perceptions. It is about impartially upholding what is right and fair, particularly for the powerless among us.
Biblical justice is blind. Although extremely difficult to attain, we must strive towards this end. The verdict in this case represents a step in the right direction.