Justice

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.”

— Aristotle

Life is unfair, so they say.

Some people are lucky, they have wealth, health, beauty, talent, intelligence. They were born to parents who loved them in all the right ways and communities and circumstances that allow them to put all that good luck to good use, and then there are some people just have to suffer through life with less, a whole lot less.

You are born with a losing genetic lottery ticket, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, in the wrong body. You have parents who came from parents who came from parents with bad luck too, and they’ve gone and passed it on down to you. You never have enough of anything, not food, money, or love. You grow up hard, and people hurt you for no reason other than they can. They never let you be. They take what little you have, and nothing is ever done about it. The world is shitting on you. A rain cloud follows you wherever you go. Nothing is ever easy, and nothing ever happens to anyone else.

There is a profound imbalance between what you have, what you deserve, and what everyone else seems to get so easily. It isn’t right, but is it unfair? If it is unfair, who or what makes it so? Is it your fault, other people, the government, God?

When we are talking justice, we aren’t just talking about the modern judicial system meant to prosecute and punish criminals. When we talk about justice, what we are really talking about what is fair, and what is fair has many different meanings to many people. What does equality look like? Does everyone have the same things, or does everyone have what they personally want and need? When a crime is committed how do we set the world right again? Retribution, restoration, rehabilitation?

Justice doesn’t just exist between criminals and law-abiding citizens. It exists between business owners and their customers. It exists in the workplace, in schools, between lovers, neighbors, and friends. It exists between the government and its people, between countries, between races, and genders, class, and age. It is the shape of our society. It’s in everything we do.

We treat others the way we are treated. We treat others the way we want to be treated. We seek a resolution to our pain, by giving others the punishment they deserve, and we seek to make right the wrongs around us by restoring the dignity and peace of others as we judge fit. Between us and everyone around us is a scale and the constant tipping and desire to rebalance those drives much of our lives.

It isn’t just us either. Apes and other primates, dogs, elephants, and other life forms on this planet have an innate sense of what is fair, but it isn’t a rational sense. Not even in humans. Injustice anywhere, but especially injustice personally experiences, arouses deep and intense emotional reaction from us. Unfortunately, those reactions are often exhausting and short-lived.

Justice is exhausting. It’s everywhere, it’s complicated, it requires us to employ empathy and to change, and humans loathe to change. In order to rouse us to face injustice, we have to feel as if we are being, or could be, personally victimized.

We have to put ourselves in the shoes of others and imagine what we would do, need, or want if we weren’t us, but them instead. If we had been born to different circumstances, learned differently, raised differently. What might you need if you were born with a disability, to parents with no education, and in a country that hated you for your skin or your gender? What crime might you commit if you had never known love?

But how do we agree what is right? Who decides? This is the question that has plagued us since we became aware of our social nature. Humans need to live harmoniously, and the requires leaders who can keep us safe, fed, sheltered, and cooperative. Cooperation requires rules and those rules have to foster fairness or what you will have is chaos and revolt. So, why can’t we ever get it right? Why do our instincts elude us? It all seems so simple, if we want fairness, we must act fairly, and if there are those who don’t we must move to act against them, but what if that unjust someone is you?

“There is no justice among men.”

— Nicholas II of Russia

If there is a system of justice in a place that gives us a believable illusion of fairness, we find it very hard to act, even if we aren’t benefitting from the system but especially if we are or hope we will. Justice, we come to believe, is merely everyone doing what they are told to do regardless of what we want or what is right. It’s not making waves. It’s taking your lumps and being happy with what you have, even if what you have is nothing at all. Justice is keeping your head down and waiting until it’s your turn to get over on everyone else. Justice is a tool, it is strategic.

What is fair has to be balanced against our greed, but as sad as that is, that is how I know that deep down, people are good. It’s how I know that we are capable of being far fairer than we are. I know this because the moment a person is out of excuses, and there is nowhere left for them to look to, we suddenly find it in us to do what is right. When we are forced to face inequality, we are forced, through our own guilt and innate sense of what it right, to rectify it, and we do it every single time.

We will fight to the death for what we know is right, as long as we are made to know it. We will protest, revolt, and go to war for others once there is no way to escape our own guilt by not acting, but the moment we can step back into our own lives, as soon as we can stop feeling so much for them, so much like them, we forget.

And that is why life is unfair because there has never been sufficient enough effort made to make it so. We try, time and time again, but the truth is the effort cannot be sustained. Humans are not built to act fairly 100% of the time. We are opportunistic creatures and will weave elaborate justifications for inequality we create and perpetuate to get ahead.

So, life is unfair, but not because of God or the laws of the universe made it so,  it’s unfair because inequality benefitted human evolution at some point and now we struggle to overcome ourselves.

Now we have to suffer generation after generation for so little progress. We have to do the exhausting and endless work of hurting each other, then healing each other, distributing and redistributing wealth and compassion, then punishing and rehabilitating ourselves for getting it wrong again and again and again.

We do it because we must. For every impulse to harm, there is also one to help, and for all our destruction and cruelty, there is in us a dream of a blind, universal justice where every human knows their place, has what they need, and never knows indignity. A world where the scales in our minds weighing right and wrong, have and have not, are always in perfect balance.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter J under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Andy Omvik on Unsplash

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Short and Sweet Reviews // Making a Murderer

Warning: This review is not spoiler free.

If you haven’t heard of Netflix’s amazing true crime documentary series, Making a Murderer, yet I urge you to stop right here, crawl out of that rock you’ve been living under, and go binge all 10 episodes right now! Filmed over a 10 year period this show chronicles the plight of Steven Avery, a man falsely accused of a sexual assault, wrongly convicted and jailed for 18 years, exonerated by DNA evidence, then accused and convicted of a murder of Teresa Halbach under suspicious evidence and police practices.

Filmed over a 10 year period this show chronicles the plight of Steven Avery, a man falsely accused of a sexual assault, wrongly convicted and jailed for 18 years, exonerated by DNA evidence, then accused and convicted of a murder of Teresa Halbach under suspicious evidence and police practices.

“Who better than a police officer would know how to frame somebody?”

// Jerry Buting, co-defense counsel for Steven Avery

The first few episodes are a little tough to get through. While interesting there is so much information packed into them that you keep thinking to yourself, “What could they have to talk about for 7 more episodes?”. Keep going, trust me, it is so worth it. I was on the edge of my seat through the rest of it. I wish the series had been longer and I pray that rumors of a second season come true.

But what you all really want to know is, what do I think happened to Teresa? I have three theories:

  1. The boyfriend/brother killed her. The deleted voicemails, the fact that the search party was allowed into the Avery compound during a police search, and the brothers willful unquestioning of any of the quite questionable evidence is suspicious as hell.
  2. Some other Avery killed Teresa. Steven has brothers and other nephews who were on the compound during the time Teresa was there. They could’ve just as easily killed her.
  3. Steven Avery did it, just not the way police say he did. It is possible that while he was guilty the police were afraid of not getting a conviction based on his past wrongful conviction, so they planted some extra evidence.

Two thing I know for sure is there is a whole lot of reasonable doubt in Steven’s case, and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was also convicted for his alleged involvement, is 100% innocent. Watch the show and you heart will break for 17-year-old Dassey who is coerced into a confession, has a pretty sleazy lawyer, and is obviously confused by what is happening.

Then again I could be completely wrong, but what is for sure is Making a Murder is great entertainment and incredibly interesting. I highly recommend you watch it and after you do, come back here so I can hear all of your theories too.

“Poor people lose. Poor people lose all the time”

// Steven Avery, talking to his parents from jail

 

A Few Words on the Daniel Holtzclaw Case and Verdict

I just really can’t believe it because it’s the police. And I thought stuff like that only just really happened on movies. I couldn’t believe what was going on was really going on.

– S.H.

I don’t blame you if you’ve never heard of Daniel Holtzclaw. You would think a story about an ex-cop being charged with sexually assaulting 13 women, aged 17 to 58, would be big national news but it was hard to find mention of it on any national news networks. Until yesterday that is, when he was found guilty on 18 of the 36 counts.  The jury recommended a total of 263 years of prison time for Holtzclaw’s crimes.

Holtzclaw targeted his victims for their skin color and their criminal histories. Most were battling drug or prostitution charges and all were black so he figured no one would listen or believe them. Why wouldn’t he think he’d get away with it? All women have trouble getting authorities to listen and believe their stories of rape and assault, it’s even worse for black women.

I know that like I’ve been in trouble before, so I mean like, who am I to a police officer?

– T.M.

During the trial the defense argued the usual for these kinds of charges. The sex acts we consensual, Holtclaw is an upstanding, ethical citizen and servant of the public, the victims had a history of criminal activity and lying, and finally, the entire community hated him so of course they would try to hurt him with false rape accusations. Holtzclaw did not take the stand in his defense.

I admit I did not expect a conviction. The jury was all white and mostly male and we all know how that goes. They deliberated for almost two days, which didn’t feel like a good sign. I would’ve bet against a conviction and I tell you today I have never been happier to be wrong. I wish he could have been found guilty on all of the charges and I hope the women who’s assaults he was found not guilty of can still find some closure in knowing this man will (hopefully) go to prison for the rest of his shitty life.

But then I thought, then again, you know, who are they going to believe? It’s my word against his because I’m a woman and, you know, like I said, he’s a police officer. So I just left it alone and just prayed that I never saw this man again, run into him again, you know.

– C.J.

When I saw the video of him rocking back and forth and sobbing as the judge read the verdict I couldn’t help feeling a little joy in his suffering. I could tell he never thought that this would happen. He never believed he would actually be caught, let alone charged and convicted. He never thought there would be real consequences. He thought he could do whatever he wanted because of that damn badge. I imagine the whole thing feels surreal to him. I hope his whole world is crumbling and I hope he cries for a very long time. I wish him all the misery possibly and I refuse to feel bad for it. This man deserves far worse than he will get.

I saw many wishing that he suffers the same treatment as his victims did. I draw the line there. As someone who fights to end rape culture I have to advise against this sort of talk. We cannot pick and choose when rape is and isn’t okay. Instead I hope he never finds peace or happiness the rest of his days. I hope he suffers in his own guilt and the knowledge that he has been the worst kind of human being possible. I hope he knows he can never be redeemed.

I am happy about this conviction but I do wish that more victims could find the justice they deserve. According to RAINN only about 2% of rapists will ever serve a day in prison. It’s next to zero if you only include the assaults of Black Women. I hope that the other officers out there abusing their power in this way (we know they are out there) see that this is not okay. I hope they see that things are changing and People of Color are not going to stay silent.

I hope that Holzclaw’s victims, and all victims of sexual assault and rape, continue to move toward a place of peace and healing.

My thoughts are with you all, always.

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Quotes from the victims via Buzzfeed

Stop Thinking Karma is a Thing

I have always been highly skeptical of anything that gives human beings comfort. Things that give us comfort tend not to be based on rational thinking and often have no basis in reality. We use stories and superstition to help us cope in a universe that in harsh and indifferent. I get that. More often than not though, these beliefs, and the comfort we gain from them, only make life harder in the long run.

One area this can be seen in is the belief in karma, the belief that whatever you do comes back to you. The belief that we all reap what we sow. The belief that what goes around comes around. This thinking can be seen in religion as the belief that your actions will decide what happens to you in the afterlife, such as, whether you go to heaven or hell. It comes from the Buddhist belief that what you do in this life determines what you will become in your future reincarnations.

We believe this because the knowledge that there is no cosmic justice system makes us feel alone and unimportant. We believe this because knowing that people can treat others badly and feel no consequences just hurts too much. Our minds cannot conceive of a life of suffering that serves no greater purpose. Even without purpose we cannot believe that bad things can happen to good people and no thing is there to level it all out. For us, our deeds must be seen, and the good rewarded, and the bad punished.

These beliefs appear harmless on the surface but they can actually be very dangerous. If we think that a higher power will punish all the bad people we will never right the wrongs we see around us. Human suffering can never be eased with this mindset. We will never lift a finger to change anything if we keep thinking the responsibility doesn’t lie with us.

If you are someone who believes in karma, I challenge you to imagine, what if it isn’t true? What if bad people live a good life and nothing and no one ever makes them pay for their crimes? What if really bad things happen to good people every single day and nothing will change because no one cares? Sure makes it seem like it’s up to each of us to right the wrongs in place of that grand scale of justice, right?

Believing in karma makes it easy for us to do nothing. We believe we don’t have to because the universe is on “set it and forget it” and the rights and wrongs will all come out even in the end. This is an incredibly privileged belief to hold. If you have the luxury of thinking everything will work itself out you do not have very big problems.

Where is karma for the starving children? Where is karma for the women forced to marry or work in deplorable situations? When exactly does Karma kick in? How many times have you seen a wrong and said to yourself “It’s ok, they’ll get what’s coming to them.” as you turned your eyes away? It was all so easy wasn’t it? How convenient that you need not even lift a finger because the forces of the universe conspire to level the field?

If that is how you feel, stop it right now. We have to take responsibility for the wrongs we do nothing to right. Allow yourself to be appalled at the audacity of people who will treat other badly and enjoy it. Allow yourself to feel a duty to help those who are being oppressed. Take off the blinders, stop letting yourself be ignorant, and place the blame where it belongs, on all of us.

There are a ton of assholes all over the world who live quite happy lives treating others as a means to their own ends. Good people suffer and die and no one ever helps because those assholes know that you think it’s all coming back around.

They know it isn’t, and you ought to know it too.

When you see a wrong, say something, do something, because it is up to you, and all we have is now. It is up to each of us to ease the suffering of those around us. Don’t let you peace be one that comes from shirking responsibility. Find peace in making a difference.

Bad people will never change unless we make them. See someone being bullied by a coworker, speak up. See someone treating their spouse like crap, or a parent being a dick to their kid, say something. Hear about a dictator in another country condoning rape and murder, raise some awareness, call a congressman, give some money. Do something.

Fuck minding your own business and fuck that cosmic justice crap.

Do what you can, when you can, because no one else will, least of all the planets and the stars.