January 17, 2019

Let’s be thankful for our imperfect legal system

Imagine being the mother of one of the 200,000 people murdered in Syria over the past few years. As you grieve for your lost child, you empathize with the countless others who have suffered untold massacres in your chaotic and lawless country.

One day, in a rundown local café on the outskirts of Damascus, you see television images of riots going on in America– in a little town called Ferguson.

Police cars are being burned. Bricks and tear gas canisters are flying through the streets. People are enraged.

You wonder: Where does this rage come from?

The T.V. announcer explains that it’s because a grand jury decided not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American 18-year-old.

A man named Robert McCulloch shows up on screen. He’s the prosecuting attorney explaining the decision to reporters. The jury had engaged in an “exhaustive review” of the evidence, he says, including numerous witness statements and forensics. Several witnesses—all of whom were African-Americans—said that Brown had charged at Wilson when the shots were fired.

At that moment, you go into into a dreamlike state. The T.V. images are a blur. You don’t notice anyone around you. Even the sound of machine-gun fire in the distance doesn’t register.

You can’t stop thinking about that man on the screen. Exhaustive review of evidence? Numerous witness statements? Forensics? What kind of crazy fantasy is this? You amuse yourself by imagining 200,000 grand juries in Syria doing an exhaustive review of evidence to decide whether or not indict the countless murderers roaming your land.

That’s a fantasy you know will never happen in your country. In fact, in many parts of the world, the very idea of a grand jury is a fantasy.

As much as I was fuming at the Ferguson police when I first learned of the Brown shooting, it was hard for me to stay angry after seeing the legal process unfold.

Maybe it’s because I was raised in the Middle East, where things like “exhaustive review of evidence” are foreign objects. Whatever it is, the American legal system, however imperfect and unfair and infuriating it can be, is still a marvel of justice for most people on the planet.

For that mother grieving in Syria, a country where people feel free to be enraged at the law after an exhaustive review of the evidence is a miracle country.

For that imperfect country, I feel thankful.