We Are Not Just

May 4, 2013
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The United States justice system is valued by many as being one that is “just for all”. By having both federal and state courts Americans are given both a sense of control and security, a hard line the justice system must walk. Though after seeing the cases we both agree with and don’t, we are forced to question whether these things really insure our freedom and safety. Is it really possible that a person’s geographic position can justly play into the harshness of their sentence? Should an incarcerated criminal who is not on death row have fewer protections than any other human being? Can a jury of people be truly impartial to their own biases? And should a justice system be based on the integrity of a society, or should it be the same under any conditions? Our definition of justice is constantly changing but in every definition we maintain that justice is impartial to environment. Justice may be consistent, but humans are not, so how can we possibly be just?

Our nation has had its share of mistakes and one we’re still paying for is racism. Though almost every American would certainly agree our past was flawed, not all would see the flaws in our current ways. 0.4% of all Caucasians are incarcerated, 0.7% of Hispanics, and a whopping 2.3% of African-Americans. It could be said that it is mere coincidence or that perhaps Caucasians just do commit less crimes, but there's no sure way to tell. The fact that we cannot concretely say that this statistic is not due to racism is a clear violation of justice. In order for people to be completely impartial we practically have to erase their humanity. We would have to erase the gender, ethnicity, weight, social class, and almost every other characteristic other than the crime from the accused to create an impartial jury. Why then, do we think that being impartial is tantamount to being humane when the only way to do so is erase humanity completely? Justice runs on the biases, vendettas, and personal afflictions of every person in our society; if they happen to be racist, then justice is too. Is that what Americans truly believe?

America is proud of our use of federalism, but could it be one of the main flaws in our justice system? Anyone would tell you that the severity of the sentence for a person's crime is based on the crime and not weather it was performed on a mountain top or on the plains. Why then, can punishments for the exact same crime be different in different states? No matter how you define justice, the words “geographic location” surely wasn't in there. For example, statutory rape in Colorado is punishable by two to six years in prison, while in Alabama it is punishable by ten to ninety-nine years in prison. Is it actually more of a breach of justice to rape a child in Alabama than in Colorado? Are the children there just more precious? Perhaps it's like the difference between stealing a pack of gum versus a car, both are stealing, but one is a worse crime. Surely we can all agree that putting that sort of value on things like children is unjust. The fact that we have differences between states seems like a good idea that gives us more control, but does it really? Is having a tiny bit more of a say on weather we can have medical marijuana worth depreciating our childrens' value on the justice scale? Even more importantly, should we have to make that choice in a completely “just” world?

In 1994 Christopher Scarver was an inmate at Columbia Correctional Institution. He is known for killing another inmate, Jeffery Dahmer, a serial killer known for cannibalism. He was sentenced to 15 life terms, 957 years, in prison, but was not on death row. Most people would agree that Dahmer could hardly be considered human, but in the eyes of justice could anything a person does actually take away their right to live? Though we do employ capitol punishment in some places it is known that we do so for societies safety and not for vengeance on the individual. When the criminal is not on death row, they've been deemed not enough of a threat to society, and even when they are, they still have the right to a humane death. Dahmer was beaten to death by a lead pole and somehow it was missed by the prison guards. Furthermore, Scarver had to face charges for murder because of those prison guards who mysteriously missed the entire incident. Most likely, the guards were particularly lax with Dahmer's protection and Scarver knew it. That means that “justice” had Scarver do the dirty work and penalized him for it. It's like sticking a cholera-contaminated burger in front of a starving person in order to get rid of it. There is just no justifications for having a system that allows that.

It's hard to tell weather any of these examples breach justice when we have such a hard time defining what justice is. We have laws on animal cruelty and yet we knowingly do things to prisoners that would breach those laws were they animals. As a society we need to figure out if justice is “just for all” or just for those of us who earn it by following the moral guide lines we set up. Everyone believes that we are “innocent until proven guilty” but after proven guilty, what are we? Are we a geographic location, a threat to society, an ethnicity statistic, an animal, or something that deserves less rights than an animal? No, everyone gets freedoms here that are protected, under conditions. Justice should not be conditional though. In order to fix our system we must accept that justice is racist, cruel and everything we are, or accept that we are not just.

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