Justice Without Facts Is No Justice at All

Ten days ago, a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed a black man, Jamar Clark, suspected of assault. The incident has prompted ongoing protests led by the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter movement at the fourth precinct station.

Some witnesses claim that Jamar was handcuffed when he was shot — which is why the community is outraged. Police contest that their investigation shows that Clark was not handcuffed, but the investigation is ongoing.

On Monday night, five people were shot at the Black Lives Matter demonstration site where protesters have been camping out since November 15. Thankfully, no one sustained life-threatening injuries. It’s being reported that “white supremacists” were involved in the shooting. Since the incident, three suspects have been arrested.

As we wait to learn the truth, justice moves forward in Chicago — where video footage of the shooting of Laquan McDonald is now public (thirteen months later) and the officer who shot him sixteen times is charged with first-degree murder. So what do we do while we wait in Minneapolis?

Justice without facts is no justice at all. When the institution of justice fails to report the facts, we should suspect injustice would happen. We must do everything just within our power to demand that the facts be disclosed. How else could we be confident that justice was served? We need to prosecute the ugly ambiguity cloaking partiality behind closed doors. We need the facts.

And injustice is guaranteed when we fail to listen, speak with haste, and act swiftly in anger. As unjust as any one of these shootings may be — and undoubtedly some of them are — we cannot allow ourselves to answer the ambiguity with a different kind of injustice. After all, justice without facts is no justice at all.

Fast and Slow

When perceived injustices occur, it’s common to run to our computers and share our thoughts with the world. We want to be the first in our circles to break the story and give our opinion. James 1:19–20 is often forgotten.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

James is clear: Every person should do one thing fast and two things slow. First, he cautions Christians to quickly listen. This theme of cautious speech is blatantly encouraged throughout Proverbs:

  • Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Proverbs 17:28)

  • Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 29:20)

  • A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18:2)

  • When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19)

In an age dominated by social media and breaking news, these words may be timelier than ever. Platforms are built on quick and abundant words rather than slow and cautious wisdom. Rather than wisdom, our feeds are dominated by ignorance and foolishness on display for all to see. And rather than condemn it, we sadly celebrate and encourage it.

We Want Truth and Justice

This week I visited the black man’s country club, also known as the barbershop. Naturally, the conversation shifted to the shooting. I quietly but anxiously waited to see where the comments went. The barber and customers — frustrated that a black man is dead and annoyed by the rhetoric of those who believe the shooting was justified — all admitted that they don’t know what happened.

I only recently started going to this barbershop so I can’t speak with any kind of authority whether I was among any Christians. Nevertheless, they were practicing James 1:19–20. These brothers recognized the value of gathering facts before flippantly condemning.

The reality is, we really don’t know much. We know that police killed a young man. We know that a father and mother have lost a child. We know siblings have lost a brother. We know friends have lost a loved one. But we don’t know if an injustice was committed. The only people that know what happened are the witnesses and the officers that were present, and their stories conflict with one another. We await more information from the investigations.

The end goal of James’s exhortation is justice based on truth and facts. Injustice is guaranteed when we fail to listen, speak with haste, and act swiftly in anger. We’re in dangerous territory when we pit the Bible’s command to “seek justice, correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17) against its command to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” We’re so anxious for justice — our perception of justice — we can’t wait for truth. But so-called “justice” absent of facts is no justice at all. It’s just more injustice.

You Can Do More Than Listen

Without the facts, we’re called to patiently listen. But we can do more than listen. We can also pray. John Calvin, commenting on 1 Timothy 2:1–2, writes,

Some might reason thus with themselves: “Why should we be anxious about the salvation of unbelievers, with whom we have no connection? Is it not enough, if we, who are brethren, pray mutually for our brethren, and recommend to God the whole of his Church? For we have nothing to do with strangers.”

This perverse view Paul meets, and enjoins Christians to include in their prayers all men, and not to limit them to the body of the Church.

In that same spirit, please pray for Minneapolis, and for Chicago. John Piper once wrote, “If prayer seems to you a diversion from productivity, remember God does more in five seconds than we can in five hours.”

So if prayer seems unhelpful, and like a cop out, when tragedies like this strike, remember that God can do more in five seconds than thousands of Facebook posts, tweets, and blogs ever could.

And God loves justice. Job and Habakkuk both questioned his justice and received answers convincing enough to make them speechless. God will see to it that justice is done. It is only a matter of time.

Justice is moving forward in Chicago, and we pray it will come to Minneapolis as well — and true justice only comes with truth. Those who truly love justice will not want to commit further injustices by rushing to speak before knowing the truth.

(@PhillipMHolmes) served as a content strategist at desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Jasmine, have a son, and they are members of Redeemer Church in Jackson, Mississippi.