Monday, July 26, 2010

Welling Up, As Waters

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. 
If it were not for injustice, men would not know justice.
It's about justice.  They deserve justice.  It cries out for justice.
It's the Criminal Justice System.
I don't know what any of that means, and I'm tired of hearing about it.
Dean Dankelson, President of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, writing in yesterday's Kansas City Star, described a brutal double murder.
On Oct. 23, 2000, Richard Strong, a 6-foot-3-inch-tall, 276-pound man, stabbed Eva Washington and her 2-year-old daughter, Zandrea, to death with a 12-inch chef’s knife.

They were stabbed a total of 30 times with such force that the tip of the blade was embedded in Eva’s skull.

Eva suffered 21 stab wounds to her face, head, neck, chest, arms, back and abdomen. Several ribs were severed, and her jugular vein had been shredded.

Simply put, she had been annihilated.

Zandrea was 3 feet tall and weighed 28 pounds. She suffered nine stab wounds to the neck, back, chest and abdomen. Several ribs were severed.

She suffered severe damage to her internal organs, and she was nearly decapitated.

Based upon the blood spray pattern, she was alive, though perhaps unconscious, at the time this wound was inflicted.

Zandrea was also annihilated.
Opposing the death penalty for Richard Strong because it's about revenge, Dankelson goes on to say,
is an insult to Eva and Zandrea.
That's because the death penalty isn't about revenge.  And it's important regardless of cost or deterrence.
The death penalty is an extraordinary punishment that is sought and imposed only against the worst of the worst criminals.

Simply put, the death penalty is about justice. The criminal justice system has built-in safeguards against sentences of revenge. 
As I said before, I don't know what that means.
Oh, Dankelson explains that the death penalty can't be about revenge because everybody involved in making the decision to seek, impose, or affirm a death sentence is altogether free of bias.  That's absolute nonsense, of course.  First, prosecutors, jurors, judges, and god knows the witnesses who urge killing are none of them free of bias.
Perhaps none knew personally the victim of the underlying criminal act.  Perhaps none has a direct financial stake in the outcome.  Perhaps none will ever write a book or seek preferment or run (again?) for office.  Perhaps none cares about how his friends, her neighbors, the kids' schoolmates and their parents feel about the story that's been all over television and the newspapers and discussed in the beauty parlor and the coffee shop.
They still have points of view, perspectives.  They bring with them a lifetime of learning about race and class and sex.  They have politics and attitudes.
Dankelson either thinks all who toil on the government side, the kill-them-now side of the system are robotic appliers of perfect objectivity (no humans there) or he hopes he can gull us into believing it.  My guess is that it's a bit of both.
In any event, what he imagines/hopes/believes/wants to sell is that through those robots without individual sensibilities or experience will come "justice" (or maybe "Justice").  Except that Dankelson's declaration of justice is no more than a declaration.
God said, "Let there be light, and there was light."
Sure, for god the word, logos (λόγος), calls forth the thing.  But Dankelson isn't god.  Saying justice doesn't make justice.  It's still about revenge.
Eva and Zandrea are not here to speak for themselves. We must speak for them.
And whatever words we utter, their substance remains vengeance.  And vengeance, well, it's logos again.  From Deuteronomy:
To me belongeth vengeance, and recompense.
From Romans:
Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
From Amos, we have a different view, something not from god, and much harder to pin down.
But let justice well up as waters,
And Righteousness as a mighty stream.
It's grand enough, certainly.  But you can't just declare it and have it be.  Mark Twain knew.
The rain is famous for falling on the just and unjust alike.
Which is why, when you get down to it, I don't deal in justice (or Justice).  There's something noble there in those words from Amos.  But there's no content.
Emily Dickinson said that hope is the thing with feathers.  Woody Allen put her straight.
How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not "the thing with feathers". The thing with feathers has turned to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich.
So for justice, even as it wells up, "as waters."
And, frankly, if killing Richard Strong is justice, then spare me.


  1. Sure. What's 34 years between relatives?

    Justice has rarely been about justice; it's always been about revenge. Consider:

    Exodus 21:24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

    Leviticus 24:20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.

    Deuteronomy 19:21 "Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

    This is pretty much countered in Matthew 5:43-48

    43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    Now then, for a non-Christian practical approach to the death penalty. Have the final decision made by a panel who are opposed to the death penalty, and let the executioner be selected from the victim's family members - if they are so inclined. Otherwise, the accused can sit in jail until he rots.

    There was a case some time ago in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, I don't remember which, where the accused was executed by the victim's father or elder brother. Friends and family urged the executioner to forgo the execution (decapitation via sword) but he didn't, and shortened the prisoner by one head.

    I'm not opposed to the death penalty. What I'm opposed to is the system which refuses to admit its own imperfections and which imprisons the innocent on the basis of farcical trials. This isn't justice or a system of justice; this is a dictatorship.

    As an aside, the thing I find most interesting in this scripture from Matthew is the reference to tax collectors. He doesn't say, Even the lawyers are doing that, or Even the child molesters are doing that - or Even the politicians are doing that. Nope, it's the tax collectors.

    Want to make the world a better place? Get rid of the I.R.S.

  2. It's revenge, by and large, no doubt. It's not the kind of revenge we're used to, born of personal anger and hurt. It's revenge based on society's impotence in dealing with horrible events. Most of the folks who will be discussing these cases in beauty parlors and drug store sandwich counters haven't really taken a lot of time to think about it. When it comes down to it, people don't like feeling out of control. The reason we have a policy of "we'll kill you back" is because we don't like to admit that we're powerless to prevent that one unpredictable person. One traumatic event deserves an equal one, not because it's logical, but because it just makes sense.

    Then, there are the vindictive assholes who get off on dispensing justice at the end of a rope (insert campy western voice). Or, the ones who get elected by it. Or the ones who never evolved, despite confrontation with the truth. Finally, there are the apologists, who have spent years coming up with pseudo-intellectual arguments in favor of the death penalty. Those are, by far, the worst.