The battle between social justice and following the rules

I’ve been posting my Hall of Fame index articles at, so I felt it would be good to use this space to offer some opinions on current events. If you don’t want to be bombarded with opinions on politics and culture then you have been forewarned.  However, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought recently and had nowhere else to put it.

A number of friends Catholic and not have been posting numerous memes on Facebook and social media lately about how it is our duty as Christians to speak up before our country gets lost to evil. Others have been criticizing Black Lives Matter for not caring about all instances of violence and about how horrible it is for athletes to kneel during the national anthem. I can’t help but think these are all interconnected.

The United States Council of Bishops obviously talks a lot about social justice and our responsibilities as Catholics. Obviously, not all of you are Catholic, but I thought I would outline their seven general themes so we can talk more about what is going on in that general context.

  1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person
  2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation
  3. Rights and Responsibilities
  4. Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
  5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
  6. Solidarity
  7. Care for God’s Creation

To be sure, all of these categories have a number of details that we could certainly get into. Still, I think for the most part, the categories say enough to give us a jumping off point. We as Catholics are concerned with life, the plight of the poor and vulnerable, rights of workers, and environment.

So, what happens when the laws and the ways that laws are enforced violate these precepts? We are called to obey the laws of the land and obey the rules of God and the church. This is all true. Generally speaking we can do more when we work within the system. This is true of any system.

Systemic racism is defined as racism that is embedded as normal practice within a society or organization. It is unique from individual racism. It has more to do with typical outcomes than necessarily the individual feelings of those that administer justice.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 57.9 percent of all inmates are white while 38.2 percent are black. These are federal prisoners and don’t include state run penitentiaries. However, let’s assume that the percentages are roughly analogous.  Based on 2019 census data, 63.4 percent of the population is white while only 13.4 percent is black.

So, why is the incarceration rate for African Americans nearly three times what their percentage is in the population. There can only be three possibilities. Either they are naturally more predisposed to commit crimes, they are more likely to be in a socioeconomic group that commits crimes, or the justice system does not treat them fairly.

Notice the difference in overall population numbers. This is the trick that those that want to white wash (pun intended) police brutality numbers want you to overlook. They will tell you that more white people are killed by cops than black people. Well, since they outnumber African Americans more than four to one in the population I should hope so.

In 2020, 215 white suspects have been killed by police nationwide as of July 31st. 111 African Americans have been killed by police. See, the justice system isn’t prejudiced because more white people were killed. The problem is that whites outnumber blacks four to one. So, in theory, the number of suspects killed should occur at the same ratio. It doesn’t. A part of the proof comes in the fact that the Hispanic population and African American population is roughly the same size. Nearly forty more African Americans have been killed by police.

I’m a statistics guy. I trust numbers. The numbers tell me there is something wrong with the system. The same is true when we break down incarceration numbers. It doesn’t mean individual judges, prosecutors, or police officers are racist necessarily. Something is going on with the system.

At its heart, black lives matter is about all of this. On it’s site, they state the following, “Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the U.S., UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.  By combating and countering acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy, we are winning immediate improvements in our lives.”

Hopefully, no one can seriously oppose any of the aims there. It would seem to affirm the dignity of every human, acknowledge everyone’s rights, and it affords the opportunity to show solidarity. Just like with nations, being an ally doesn’t mean agreeing with everything someone (or a nation) says or does. It simply means we have common goals and we see eye to eye more often than not.

Supporting black lives matter doesn’t mean not supporting police or any other group. It doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter or that blue lives don’t matter. It means that we obviously have a problem with African American lives seemingly mattering less when they interact with the police and criminal justice system. I don’t have to be down with socialism or any other ism to affirm that the above sentence is wrong and we should be invested in seeing change. We can have adult conversations about how.

Author: sbarzilla

I have written three books about baseball including The Hall of Fame Index. I also write for You can follow me on twitter @sbarzilla.

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