Monday, November 22, 2021

On Justice

We have a justice problem in America. If you've been paying attention to the headlines, you probably suspect something like this, but it's not really what you think. 

Because our biggest justice problem in America comes not from those who seem to be blind to the injustices in our system, but from those most keenly aware of them. 

A recent, well-publicized case has brought this once again to our attention. Despite the fact that race was not an issue in this particular case (the accused and the victims are all of the same race), many have chosen to bring race into it. Calling out hypotheticals, such as, "If this had been a black man...." Even some pastors have jumped on this boat, using an acquittal to jump in and list the names of victims of racial injustice as if there is some kind of equivalency here. 

There's not. 

A black kid being shot for holding his cell phone is simply not the same story as a white kid shooting someone who is attacking him in the streets. 

Listen, I get it - the circumstances of all of these cases are more complicated than we're able to really provide space for. Just as we did with Mary and Martha last week, we're talking about caricatures too often when we talk about justice and injustice, and what I don't want to do is to let this discussion get distracted by the fact that we're not including all of the details. So let me be clear - we are not including all of the details. We can't. We'll go off down a rabbit trail and miss the point of this post, which is the nature of our justice itself. 

And what I want to say on that front is this: this recent verdict, and the discussion and debate that have followed, have shown us what our true problem with justice in America is, and it is this:

There are too many who want to hold justice hostage to its injustices. There are too many who want everyone who is put through our justice system to pay for all of the things it's gotten wrong over the years. 

There are too many who want to put the burden of a broken system on any man who finds himself standing in it. 

And that, my friends, is as much a perversion of justice as anything else. 

Yes, there have been tragedies in our justice system. But the answer to that cannot be to create more tragedies in our justice system. The answer to what is seen as a systemic racism cannot be to shoulder every white guy with the burden of injustice just because he's white. You cannot hold Kyle Rittenhouse accountable for Trayvon Martin, no matter how many tweets you send out about it, and the very fact that you want to do so means you don't understand justice, either. 

We cannot let every acquittal of a white person be a commentary on every conviction of a black one. We cannot let the loss of a life be a commentary on the loss of every life. We cannot make everything about "the system" because at the heart of justice is still a human being, not a system, and when we can't get our eyes off the system to see the actual person in front of us, we are doing him or her a tremendous injustice...and for some reason, calling it "just." (It is no such thing.) 

The truth is - there are innocent white persons. There are. There are innocent white persons and guilty white persons and innocent black persons and guilty black persons. And every case deserves its fair hearing without the weight of a broken system weighing down on it. If we want justice to improve, then we have to focus on doing justice in every single individual case brought before us, not on compounding these cases with the others that left us with a bitter taste of injustice in our mouths. 

The best justice for Trayvon Martin is, however much you don't want to hear it, true justice for Kyle Rittenhouse. The best justice for George Floyd is true justice for the McMichaels. The best justice for every single victim of true justice for everyone else. Because the more we get justice right, the more we create a culture of justice around us. And it is that culture that will condemn injustice and set it right. 

We don't get justice by having "victories against white supremacy." When a verdict is rendered and a white man convicted, it's not justice to say this is a victory against racism. That loses sight of everything and every human being involved. We are a people, not a set of principles. We are human beings, not ideologies. A white man going to jail for murder is not a victory for Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, or anyone else unless that is the man who actually killed them. 

I have seen so many calling out this recent verdict as "white supremacy at its finest" and throwing out the names of every black man they believe to be unjustly killed in the streets but neither - neither - has anything to do with this specific case. Thus, what we really seem to be advocating for right now is not justice; it's something far less. 

Maybe that's the point. I don't know. Maybe we want to break the broken system more so that the whole thing crumbles, but I don't think that's wise. Justice is a holy pursuit. 

And I'm just...not convinced we get there by way of injustice. 

These issues are complicated, and I don't want to pretend that they're not. There are a thousand layers to this story, systemic issues, compassion issues, perspective issues. There are so many things that we don't have the space here to dive into. 

But what I know for certain is that you don't get justice for victims of injustice by taking it from someone else. You don't fix a broken system by turning it to break the other way. You have to do the actual hard work here. Until we do that, we're stuck. 

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