Works of fiction hold lessons for our world

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The shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson and the more recent shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, have called many different aspects of the criminal justice system to the forefront of American society, from definitions of reasonable force to unequal treatment in the courts. In particular, the protests in response to these shootings have rekindled the debate over the militarization of police departments, an issue that media sources have been criticizing for years.

For example, in the most recent version of the television series Battlestar Galactica, there is a scene where President Laura Roslyn wants to send the military to control the citizens. In response, chief military Commander William Adama refuses to send them to act as law enforcers because “there is a reason you separate the military and police. One fights for the enemy of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.” After watching the events unfold in Ferguson, I would say that the individuals who are protesting peacefully are being treated as if they are enemies of the state. The images from Ferguson and Shaw showed police using militaristic tactics because they believe that they cannot maintain order through regular policing.

After seeing pictures of the police with their armored vehicles and assault weapons, I was reminded of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series. If you have never read the books, or seen the movies, the premise of the series is that the 12 districts of the country work and provide resources to the Capitol. In exchange, the Capitol provides order in each of the districts. The “Peacekeepers” use any means necessary to maintain order, including lethal force and public execution.       In Catching Fire, the second book in the series, Katniss and Peeta are on their victory tour after winning the previous Hunger Games competition. When visiting District 11, Peeta and Katniss honored the lives of the districts’ tributes who died in the competition. As an act of rebellion against the Capitol, an elderly man raised the three-fingered salute that Katniss used in the Games. In response, the “Peacekeepers” dragged the man to the stage and shot him in front of the crowd. Despite what the Capitol intended, the militarized police state that they established only created hatred and distrust toward the Capitol, which eventually leads to a civil war in the final part of the series.      Even though the Hunger Games trilogy is a fictional representation of a dystopian state, there is still a lesson to be learned: the militarization of police only provokes violent responses from citizens. I believe this is why we saw such violent reactions. Many of the protests were peaceful until more police presence arrived, using tear gas and aiming their guns at citizens.

In the end, this issue is much deeper than any one individual. Just as Katniss was the symbol for the rebellion in the Hunger Games, Brown and others have become the symbol of the police brutality and racism that is taking place throughout the country. Regardless if you support the indictment decision for Brown and the murder charge for Officer Slager or not, there is one thing that no one can deny: there is significant distrust between urban black communities and the police. How do we stamp out the inequities of our current justice system? How do we establish a system that treats all people fairly? How can we police citizens in a way that protects them, as opposed to meeting them with force? Always remember, ideas of democracy catch fire – let us be the ones to spread it.