Political Theology Today | August 19, 2014
Three years before, Eleanor Bumpurs had been shot. A sixty-six year old black woman shot by a white police officer. Shot twice. With a shotgun. In her home. A case against the police officer wound through the courts in fits and starts. In 1987 the officer was acquitted. It was then, on the streets in front of the courthouse, that the press recorded for the first time the chant, “no justice, no peace.”
It is a chant that has been heard frequently in Ferguson, Missouri over the past several days, and it has been heard frequently across the country over the past quarter century when incidents of racial injustice surface. The chant expresses and justifies anger – perhaps something stronger, perhaps the opposite of peace, violence.
In a nation that likes its minorities peaceful, especially when they protest, in a nation that remembers its greatest racial struggles of the past century as essentially non-violent, this chant is disconcerting. It challenges the anodyne equation of love and justice. More fundamentally, it challenges the illusory consensus that love and justice are the way we, as a nation, will make ourselves better.
Does “love and justice” secularize into “no justice, no peace”? Once the Christian moral message of the civil rights movement has finally faded, are we left with irreligious fury?
These questions presume that “no justice, no peace” has a normative rather than a descriptive meaning. In other words, they presume that violence is commended as a response to injustice. What if we hear the two beats of the chant together, describing our world, or our neighborhood. There is both no justice and there is no peace: we are far from the land of milk and honey.