US justice system is a perfect instrument of racist rule

Like the neo-Nazi’s Holocaust denial, like the neo-Confederate’s ‘there were happy slaves,’ the liberal’s ‘our court is flawed’ works to minimise racist atrocity.

An activist waves an American flag upside down
An activist waves an American flag upside down to protest the 2014 police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. The officer who shot him has never been charged with any crime in relation to his death [Adrees Latif/Reuters]

A judge in Louisiana said: “We have a n****r! It’s a n****r. Like a roach,” on a home video last year.

At their best, apologists for the US “justice system” will call the judge a bad apple and the legal system that produced her – the one she wanted to be a part of –  flawed.

It is a perfect defence. An unbroken line of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous torture initiated by the courts – which kept Dred Scott in slavery, and kept Kalief Browder in slavery, which pushed the Indian off the southeast, and pulled Oklahoma from the Indian – is referred to, regretfully and with downcast eyes, as “an imperfect system”.

If all US judges shared home videos of themselves dehumanising Black people, tangoing while cleaving to Ku Klux Klan robes, and backslapping officials of a white nationalist political party they would be called bad apples. If 100 percent of all sentencing was proven to be consciously racially discriminatory, sentencing would be called flawed. And in this way the liberal view is able to protect white supremacy in action by representing it as always an aberration. Always, despite the preponderance of evidence, the protests and crying behind prison cell doors, despite all history, as being non-racist as a rule. A “justice system” that has not for one hour been anything other than an instrument of a racist rule is sold to its victims as always having non-racist potential.

Liberal hope is what hope would be if it were a racist.

This white supremacist defence of American justice has become so naturalised it might be difficult to imagine what might happen if such a judge were discovered in a fair society. There, it might generate frenzied investigations and public discussions about whether there could be justice in the legal system which let even one person decide cases who so comfortably and laughingly expressed their hatred of more than one billion people.

It might be asked why such a person might be attracted to the legal profession at all? Should not racists be repelled by the very idea of colourblind justice?

If a poisoner was discovered in a restaurant, even if some meals were not poisoned, would it not be better to pause all operations to find out if the poisoner acted alone and if necessary shut down the restaurant? Should we not do the same upon the discovery of discrimination in the institution charged with sentencing people to death by poison?

If a judge was caught calling Black people roaches in Louisiana, how would we know the Black person strapped to a gurney in Florida – who has obtained DNA evidence that he did not commit the crime and whose case was presided over by a judge who may not have uploaded home videos but was seen dining with politicians who fight to make it illegal to document police beatings – should, in fact, be poisoned?

What if the prosecutor was found to consume conservative media which every evening inches closer to speaking of “the Jew”? What if the arresting officer regularly listens to podcast hosts who invite guests to report on the latest in Negro craniometry and the naturally aggressive personality of “the Black”? How can we be certain that the governors who hang up the phone after denying a stay of execution are rubbing their hands in prayer and not with pleasure?

In a society interested in fairness, the discovery of even one weevil in the justice system might set off a panicked uprooting of law books and commence suspender and spotlight interrogations of every judge and prosecutor out of fear that countless lives may be being ruined due to the infiltration of the system by people who share the opinion of slave traders.

In America, it does not. Racists pronouncing sentences, racial disparities in sentencing, racism in arrests, police impunity and the entire regime of racist law and its enforcement is defended as an “imperfect system.”

These “imperfections” existed in Rhodesia – now called Zimbabwe , in Kenya, in Algeria, in India, in South Africa, in Ireland, and in Jamaica as well. But they are not referred to as flaws but by their proper name, colonialism. Its defenders, the colonists.

Like the neo-Nazi’s Holocaust denial, like the neo-Confederate’s “there were happy slaves,” the liberal’s “our court is flawed” works to minimise racist atrocity.

Liberalism is no less important a branch of white supremacy – even if it has been the most successful at convincing itself or pretending that it is not. (They have been believed, for example, more than the Grand Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan, who also often say, and perhaps believe, that they are not racist).

In settler colonies there are active white supremacists and there are passive white supremacists. The neo-Nazi, the neo-Confederate, the neo-liberal, their disagreements notwithstanding, are all versions of the same thing. Colonists.

The end to our colonial predicament, therefore, will not come from defenders of the regime “trying to make a change,” or a new politician who says almost the right things, or a new law or expanded Supreme Court, or a professor’s new book on making America “live up to its ideals,” or people who hope or claim to hope that colonialism can be redeemed and its courts changed. It will come from the colonised. It will come from the colonised sector. The streets and jails of the white supremacist West and the streets and jails of its empire.

There can be no more “look at wacky America with its killing Black people and mass shootings.” White supremacist colonialism has never been content to keep within the borders it imagined for itself. The end of a liveable planet may have been gavelled down in a courtroom atop a Walmart but the heat has broken through your kitchen window.

We might make a simple rule: white supremacist society cannot have a justice system. The law cannot be fixed in a place where half of the elections for legislators is essentially a competition for who could be the most hostile against the non-white person.

Whether we can ever speak of justice at all in societies in which the rich have in their parlour a host of legal technicians and have purchased the legislators and poor people say they are guilty to cut down time spent in rehabilitation camps and “correction” facilities and the shelterless are targeted as “vagrants” and are charged with sitting down is another question (And its answer is no.). But certainly if “Lady Justice” has stomped on her blindfold and is frequently caught shouting ethnic slurs and threatening to send the police after Black people for bird watching she cannot be said to care about fair conflict resolution.

In all instances of colonialism colonists who think of themselves as liberal have called a racist justice system an imperfect one. A perfect defence for a perfect instrument. A way to force hurt people to run a treadmill using neither gun nor whip, just the hope that it will one day become a road.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.