March 10, 2016
In the The People v. O.J. Simpson, justice doesn't have to be an either/or proposition.
I've been biting my nails to see who would get to comment on this important series and its resurfacing of the justice issues. I, too, remember sitting in a middle school class and being asked to write a short note on how I thought the verdict would go before it came down. I remember even in my white, small-town naïvete about these issues, I could see that "not guilty" would be the likely verdict, despite the evidence. I was happy about that, too...I remember thinking that it was good for someone to "get away with murder" if it would lead to a fairer and more objective prosecution process for people in the future. If the system was broken, it should be fixed, I though.
(Today, of course, I realize my thinking was still rather immature on a lot of the issues.)
I'm so glad you took this assignment, Josh. You consistently parse these kinds of issues with keen objectivity and challenging insight, and this piece above is no exception. I hope you won't mind me amplifying a couple things you've said, because I think they're so important.
The either/or dilemma is a false one, as you say, and I think this is a real problem with our adversarial criminal justice system as it currently stands. Though I am often critical of interpreters' irresponsible and simplistic applications of the pericope of the woman caught in adultery, I think your use of it here is quite sound. I agree that the issue in that biblical passage is not the objective guilt or innocence of the woman under accusation; of that Jesus leaves no doubt when he says "go and sin no more." The real issue is Jesus' challenge of the intrinsic systemic injustice of the judicial procedures being applied to reach a decision about how to deal with the woman...and the fact that the people who come to Jesus with the woman aren't interested in justice for the woman; they're interested in using her to commit evil against their Messiah--who, ironically, will soon execute perfect justice that will nullify the death penalty not only for that woman, but for all of them as well.
Institutionally, we tend to turn questions of guilt or innocence into matters of "winners vs. losers." Then we make zero-sum games out of complicated justice issues where guilt is shared on both sides and where offenses are often perpetrated against plaintiffs at the same time they're being prosecuted for offenses against others...not to mention how even a clear answer on the binary question of guilt vs. innocence in a particular offense rarely lends itself to a fair evaluation of what is the most constructive punishment for the actual circumstances of the case.
We want to make justice simpler than it is...and in doing so, we perpetuate injustice. I'm glad there are people like you out there who can see that--who can admit that we don't have to say OJ was innocent in order to also say that the state was guilty.
In this world, don't expect justice. In the next world, no one wants justice. We want mercy.
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