The Foundation of Justice: Fairness and “Equal Justice Under The Law”

This one has bothered me for awhile and it gets back to the very foundation of democracy. We have at least two systems of justice in this country. Until about two years ago, I believed that Justice was blind, because that’s the only way the world made sense. It’s still the only way that makes sense morally, but it is not the way the system operates, and thus the world makes no sense. When the justice system doesn’t operate ethically, we give up hope. When there is no hope, people get desperate, lash out, try anything — what we in Psychology call “acting out” — and then, oddly enough, get either punished for, or exonerated for, doing so.

Let me explain. Man walks down the street. He hasn’t done anything wrong. If he’s White and not too unseemly, that’s the end of the story. No one thinks twice. There is no story. 

If he’s Hispanic and he lived in Joe Arpaio’s county, even if he’s wearing a suit, he could be an illegal alien. Because he could be, he can be arrested and held without charges. Try explaining to your boss that you didn’t show up for work, because you were arrested. Then try to convince the boss that you didn’t do anything wrong

As if that weren’t enough, the President of the entire country you live in calls the man who did this to you “a hero”! Furthermore, he pardons the man, so you know you will never get justice. Turn on the TV and there are 50,000 people cheering for the sheriff believing that “he was only doing his job”! How does anyone live here under these conditions and believe in the American Dream? 

Why did this issue come up for me today? Today, six policemen in Baltimore were told that they would not receive jail time for killing a man. The man, Freddie Gray, already had physical problems you could see when he was unceremoniously dumped into a “Paddy Wagon”. The police in question drove over bumps in order to show him who was “in charge” and, if I remember, broke his spine. Forget the circumstances of whatever crime he committed, forget whether race played a part in this, forget whether or not this was an accident. The police (a group of men) killed a handicapped man and nothing happened to them. They are free to roam about the earth. 

The idea that there might be two justice systems started become clearer to me when the riots in Ferguson, Missouri happened. The sheriff who killed Michael Brown was seemingly exonerated by the police after a Grand Jury. I wasn’t happy about that decision, but the law had a process and I believed in it. Then I discovered that the Grand Jury in question was a “highly irregular” Grand Jury! What does that mean? In this case, the defendant got to make his case (usually done at trial) to a nearly all-White Grand Jury! He also is free to walk the streets. 

As I drive home through Hartford from my office in Springfield, I often see a sign that says “Blue Lives Matter!”, to which I say “All Lives Matter!”, knowing full well that they don’t. 

There are those who really believe that I don’t like police. There are a whole lot of cops that I do know and like — clients, family members, friends of family members. I believe in the idea of police who are just doing their job, and I believe in the idea that they should be fair. I also acknowledge that it’s an extraordinarily difficult job to do. They see the dregs of society. You know what, though? So do I. No one comes into my office because they are fine, or because their family is totally functional, or because there’s not drugs and violence involved. They come in because they have problems and some of those problems are so disgusting that they weigh my spirit down. Still, I don’t beat them. I’ve had to restrain clients in my job, but I’ve never used a billy club on them. Neither do many police get overly hostile. I really believe that most cops are good people with a very hard job to do, but in a world where everyone else is supposed to be responsible for their own behavior, police should be, too. But they are not.

Finally, of course, there’s the whole Donald Trump /Russia affair. Every day that goes by brings new news of the scandal. Forgetting all the rumors, the innuendo, the press reports, and without knowing what the Special Prosecutor will find, the President himself said he fired James Comey over “the Russia thing”. Donald Trump Jr acknowledged in public that he and members of the campaign had a meeting with the Russians. Cabinet members lied on forms for security clearance.

Did Trump obstruct justice? If I said derogatory things to a judge over parking tickets, would I be in jail? You’re darn right I would! If I was involved in a meeting with an enemy of my country, would I be in jail for treason? Of course, I would! And I would deserve to be there! If I, or one of my clients, lied on a government form, would I avoid jail? If the form was my taxes, or some client’s disability form, I would be in jail or needing to pay thousands of dollars in fines, but I sure as hell wouldn’t be able to keep a job with the government! And yet, without even a trial or a process, we know that these people committed crime. They said so. And yet, they still have jobs, they still aren’t in jail, they have faced no consequences for committing crimes!

How can we possibly believe that “justice is blind”, that the law is fair, that American law means anything at all if people who have done nothing wrong go to jail, if some people who commit a crime get one system and others get something different, and people who admit they have committed a crime face no punishment? And yet, most of us believe that right is right and wrong is wrong. We have to fix this. I don’t know how, but we have to fix this.

Resisting with Peace,

John

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