Saturday, February 21, 2009

On Justice

I've heard it said that approximately the same number of people control 95 percent of the world's economy as are in solitary confinement in the United States. There can be little doubt as to which group has killed the greatest number of people. The same would hold true for which group has stolen the most, especially if we include resources, and which group has most damaged the planet. It is entirely possible that we have the wrong population in solitary. But, of course, so long as those in power decide who goes to prison, those in power will not go to prison.

-Derek Jensen, The Culture of Make Believe

I think that most of us learn from an early age to view the world as it is presented to us and part of that means an implicit agreement about when to be outraged and when to be fearful. We've created whole belief systems and myths about this that we assume are designed to both punish criminals and protect ourselves. And yet, as Jensen points out in his book and as buhdy noted a couple of days ago, the system is rigged from the get-go.

As an example, following the above quote, Jensen goes on to discuss the Union Carbine chemical explosion in Bhopal, India that killed eight thousand and injured two hundred thousand in 1984. The Chairman and CEO of Union Carbide at the time, Warren Anderson, has been charged with manslaughter in Bhopal, but the US has ignored requests for extradition. It seems as though he's enjoying a pretty comfortable life in the Hamptons these days.

On the other end of the continuum, we might talk about something pretty close to home for me that I mentioned last two friends who's home was raided, had all of their money and possessions seized, and were hauled off to jail in handcuffs for growing and selling marijuana.

And we have the audacity to talk about a system of justice in this country?

But in my mind, its even more serious than that. Even if we could figure out a system of fairness and equality in finding the real criminals and bringing them to justice, what would that mean? Cases go to court systems where the best (and therefore most expensive) lawyers can either determine justice or tie up a case so long that it becomes almost meaningless. As an example, the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened in 1989. Litigation for damages was just completed in 2008, nineteen years later.

And finally, even if we could fix all of that, I think the consequences we come up with are more designed for retribution and revenge than they are for any kind of rehabilitation or restoration; all of which fuels recidivism and more people are hurt in the end.

I get a front row seat almost every day in seeing the makings of what we define as "criminals" in our country because of the work that I do. And I can say that, without a doubt - after over 30 years of experience - criminals are made, not born. They are made because we really don't understand our responsibilities to each other and so we ignore all of the ways that human beings are hurt and damaged and then reach out in anger and retribution when we've had enough.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should rush in with hearts and flowers when people do evil and criminal things. I am a firm believer in accountability. But if I was "Queen of the Universe" (ha-ha), we'd go back to square one and re-think this whole process from top to bottom.

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