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What Does “No Justice, No Peace” Really Mean?

With the second non-indictment of a white police officer who killed an unarmed black man in two weeks, the chant “no justice, no peace” continues to ring out in protests around the country. What does that phrase really mean — and how has it been used historically, in protest movements both peaceful and otherwise?

With the second non-indictment of a white police officer who killed an unarmed black man in two weeks, the chant “no justice, no peace” continues to ring out in protests around the country. On Wednesday, after the New York City grand jury declined to indict the police officer who put Eric Garner in the chokehold that led to his death, CNN reports, “hundreds of demonstrators gathered at various points in Manhattan... marching peacefully north as crowds formed near Rockefeller Center for the lighting of the Christmas tree. ‘No Justice. No peace,’ they chanted. ‘No racist police.’ “


Yes, the crowds were marching peacefully while chanting “no justice, no peace.” This may seem ironic, or half-hearted, if you understand the chant as an “if...then” statement. On this reading, the chant means that as long as injustice prevails, acting peacefully is a moral impossibility. It is incumbent on citizens to rise up and demonstrate against injustice, and to do so vehemently, urgently, boldly, bodily, even violently. It means rioting. It means Molotov cocktails. It means rocking police cars and setting things on fire.

This is how Ernest Istook, a former Republican congressman, interpreted the chant in the Washington Times last summer, while the grand jury in Ferguson was hearing evidence:

Instead of waiting out the investigation, they’re chanting, “No justice; No peace!” as a politically correct slogan that actually means, “We want revenge!” That attitude makes bad things become worse.

Mr. Istook concluded his column with this warning:

“No justice; No peace!” isn’t simply a slogan; it’s actually a threat...that will be extracted against anyone who doesn’t bow to the protestors’ demands.

But this take on the chant is neither the only nor the most plausible reading. When Martin Luther King, Jr., said this outside a California prison where Vietnam war protesters were being held on December 14, 1967, he was hardly trying to start a riot:

There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice.

Dr. King’s formulation contains no threats of violence, veiled or otherwise. He was making a universal point in a particular political context, observing that the antiwar movement (peace) and the civil rights movement (justice) were mutually reinforcing efforts. “I see these two struggles,” he said, “as one struggle.” By fighting a war “against the self-determination of the Vietnamese people,” the United States was, in Dr. King’s eyes, propagating injustice. To fight against segregation inside the country’s borders without opposing unjust exploitation of the Vietnamese people is to fail to recognize that, in Dr. King’s words that day, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Without justice, the thinking goes, peace will be an elusive goal. And without peace, injustice is bound to continue.

Yet this pacifist message has not always guided protesters adopting “no justice, no peace” as a mantra. In 1986 and 1987, following an assault on three black men by a white mob in Howard Beach, Queens, activist Sonny Carson appropriated the phrase. Here is an article from Newsday, a Long Island daily, on February 12, 1987 that illustrates an application of the conditional view of the chant:

"No justice! No peace!" Carson shouted. "No peace for all of you who dare kill our children if they come into your neighborhood . . . We are going to make one long, hot summer out here . . . get ready for a new black in this city!    

Thankfully, this threatening brand of “no justice, no peace” has not been activated in the current protests over the New York City grand jury decision. The protests have extensive, disruptive to traffic and sometimes dramatic, but they have been remarkably peaceful. “There were no injuries, no vandalism, no significant violence,” New York’s police commissioner said on Thursday. “It was an inconvenience certainly for motorists, but we are not having a Ferguson here ... let’s be quite clear about that.”

Image credit: a katz / Shutterstock.com

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The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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