When I chose the word justice as my topic it was just a flash-in-the-pan moment. And when I was given today as the day to use it, I didn’t even think about the significance of the day beyond it being the middle of the month. But today is the MLK Day holiday for federal, state and city employees everywhere in the U.S. So what better day to write on this topic?
The primary definition of justice as found in a legal dictionary is “. . . a scheme or system of law in which every person receives his/her/its due from the system, including all rights, both natural and legal”. However, justice is often denied when attorneys and judges get caught up in procedure rather than in achieving justice for all. The adage “justice delayed is justice denied” applies to the burdensome procedures, lack of sufficient courts, and the use of the courts to settle matters which could/should have been resolved by negotiation. Factor in the disparity between court privileges obtained by attorneys for the wealthy and not for people of modest or no means, the use of delay tactics and veritable blizzards of motions and other unnecessary paper by large law firms, and judges who fail to cut through the underbrush of all the procedures, and justice for all is eroded. In addition, oftentimes, a judge’s personal bias plays a role in the outcome of a trial.
Martin Luther King’s killer was punished by the system and justice was served. In fact. James Earl Ray confessed to the crime to escape a trial, which would have put him at risk of receiving the death penalty. He was given life in prison, of which he served 29 years before dying of Hepatitis C. And while it’s nice to know there was one less person out there to murder or otherwise injure someone else, it does not bring back MLK to his family; it does not mitigate what the world lost by his death.
How often have we seen scenes like this during riots in the last few years that purport to be in the name of justice because of police brutality after the police officers were acquitted by the court system? And not just in the U.S. In February of 2017, riots broke out in Paris in protest of police brutality when the police officers who beat and sodomized a young black man were acquitted, even though it was on video. Just last week, riots broke out in Pakistan when the body of a 7-year-old girl was found in a trash heap after being kidnapped, raped and strangled. Pakistanis felt that the police have not done enough to stop a string of such killings.
Will these riots change anything? Maybe, maybe not. Also on video was the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police in 1995; the police officers were acquitted. Almost 26 years after those riots, the Los Angeles police system hasn’t changed very much. Police brutality there is still rampant, as it is in Baltimore (2015 riots protesting the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police) and so many other cities around the world.
Riots are not the only way that justice is sought for those harmed or killed by anyone, regardless of race, sex or religion. What do individuals do when justice is not meted out by the system? More often than we will probably ever know, the victim of a crime or the loved ones of a rape or murder victim will take it upon themselves to mete out justice by injury, humiliation or other means of harm, including murder. But that isn’t justice, it’s vengeance.
Sorry I’m posting this so late, it’s been a crazy day and I’m trying to catch up to myself. [And right at this moment I’m cussing myself for trying to do something new here, failing and costing me time.]
Written as part of Just Jot It January, sponsored by Linda G. Hill. Check out more stories at https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/15/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-15th-2018/.