Wednesday, July 06, 2011

More Justice Questions

I haven't been blogging here much lately as I've been blogging on the Lord's Prayer for Darkwood Brew, so one of my most recent posts was a reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden. In that case I questioned whether justice was served. Part of the difficulty in questions of justice is defining what justice is. It seemed painfully clear to me that what too many people considered a just outcome was nothing more than revenge or retribution. Although many may argue that retributive justice is the model of how God deals with humanity, I reject that notion. Even though the ancient standard of "an eye for an eye" appears to be divinely instituted, I would argue that it was meant as a limit on the more vicious blood feud tendencies in humanity. It breaks my heart to see that in our reaction to the death even of an enemy, as if somehow a scale has been balanced by a death or even that there is such a scale that God oversees. Why should we find any relief in believing that God is causing another to suffer to bring about some sense of a deficient form of justice?

And that brings us to today's acquittal of Casey Anthony. The immediate response was a sweeping sense of shock and an anger that justice was not served. Isn't it interesting how often justice being served is equivalent to someone being punished? I must admit that my first reaction was "Who?" I avoid popular sensationalist news outlets, so I was only vaguely familiar with the case. In fact, I still only know that Casey Anthony was on trial for the death of her two-year old daughter. I don't know any of the details of how the death occurred. Naturally I'm saddened at the death of a toddler, but I truly don't believe that the taking of another life could do anything constructive to create a more just society. Murderers clearly must be stopped to protect others and there should definitely be consequences for such heinous behavior. But woe to us as a society when we allow the justice system to become trial by popular media. Twelve people were entrusted with the duty of weighing the facts and deciding if they were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant's guilt, none of the rest of us should think that we are qualified to render judgment.

I had the privilege of seeing the justice system at work by serving on a jury in a murder trial a couple of years ago. It was gut wrenching work sitting through a couple of weeks of witness testimony and examining evidence. In that trial, a young black man was accused of killing the middle aged white woman he was personal care attendant for. His bloody hand print was found on the wall above her body. It seemed like an open and shut case, aided by the fact that he couldn't afford a lawyer so was represented by a public defender. But there were holes in the story that left me with a doubt that I considered reasonable. I imagine that those who watched the coverage on the local news must have rendered him guilty in the court of public opinion. But I went into the deliberations with my doubt and said so to my fellow jurors. We deliberated for a number of hours and in the end we all agreed that there was enough doubt to acquit. Is it possible that the man committed the crime? Yes, it is. Was justice served? Yes, it was. Justice was served because the system succeeded.

But where is the justice for the victim? This was a question in the death of bin Laden as well. In fact, anytime someone is executed for a murder this question persists. I don't believe in a God who is keeping score and needs to settle it somehow. Even if I did, my faith teaches that God offers grace to wipe out that debt. So if I, who am deserving of death, am let off from the consequences of my behavior then why should I wish that another person should not get the same deal? If you feel anger at the lack of punishment for Casey Anthony because you believe that she is guilty, then you have a lot of questions to ask yourself about what you think the justice system is designed to do. I'm willing to allow potentially guilty parties escape punishment due to reasonable doubt because I want the principle of reasonable doubt to apply to me should I ever be falsely accused. I'm also willing to let go of my sense of what is appropriate punishment and leave the judgment to God alone because I likewise want to be judged solely by God, not by others. I trust that these choices are the ones that pave the path of peace and help me to fully experience grace.

Finally, it is very right to be outraged at the death of a toddler at the hands of another. It is also well beyond time that we all start to express the same sort of outrage at the thousands upon thousands of children who die daily because of the preventable problems of hunger and disease. Until we are so moved that we end their suffering their blood is on all of our hands. God have mercy.