Q: What is justice?
A: It’s hard to say, exactly. Certainly, we should be able to expect equal protection under the law. Due process. My own government should not be permitted to lock me up in a cell and forget about me. I mean, that’s the least you could say.
Q: If you said more, what would you say?
A: Well, I don’t think justice is achieved when we adopt a compulsory schooling law and then assign certain children to underfunded, dangerous schools. I don’t think it’s right for corporations and wealthy individuals to have a louder voice in a democracy than others do. I don’t think it’s fair for a church or other religious organization to discriminate against LGBT people, on a claim of freedom of religion, while receiving federal tax dollars. I realize, though, that these are controversial issues. Probably we can readily agree on other, less polarizing examples of injustice.
Q: Can you give such an example of injustice, one that you think most people would agree on?
A: Sure, I’ll try. Last summer, in my hometown, two men were shot. One died. The police arrested twelve young people, mostly young men. Not because they had all pulled the trigger. The claim instead was that they belonged to a gang. On that theory, they could all be charged with felony murder, conspiracy to commit a crime, participating in criminal gang activity, aggravated assault, and so on.
Q: So you’re saying the victims of this crime, the man who died and the one who survived, suffered an injustice?
A: Of course they did. That is, assuming that the actual shooter is not claiming self-defense. So, yes, what was done was horribly unjust to the victims. But actually I’m trying to make a different point.
Q. Which is?
A: The accused, with one exception, have been denied bail — bail at any amount — and have been locked up for more than a year. No “speedy trial” here. That simply does not seem fair to me.
Q: I guess. Somehow this does not strike me as an outrageous injustice. I mean, they were in a gang, after all.
A: Assuming that’s true — and at least two of the young men, grandsons of an acquaintance of mine, bitterly deny that their rap group was a criminal gang — is it okay to lock someone up for more than a year, with no trial date set, no bond allowed?
Q: I still don’t see where the injustice lies.
A: Really? Would it bother you to learn that the DA offered my friend’s grandsons a plea bargain on a much lesser, single offense? No doubt they would be released for time served. Doesn’t that make you think that these young men — one of them already offered an athletic scholarship to attend college, the other having enlisted in the military — are probably telling the truth when they say they had nothing to do with any of this?
Q: So why didn’t they accept the plea bargain then? That’s crazy! They’re in jail for no reason.
A: They didn’t accept the plea bargain because they are unwilling to admit guilt to any crime. They have a sense of honor. They don’t want to have to carry with them, for the rest of their lives, the charge that they were part of a violent gang.
Q: Let me get this straight. The police arrested these two young men for felony murder, conspiring to commit murder, and other crimes committed with their fellow “gangsters.” The DA asked that the judge not allow any bail, not even $1 million. The DA subsequently made a “face-saving” offer of a plea bargain on a lesser, single offense. The two young men have refused to admit any guilt. And so they have been sitting in a rural jail, day after day after day, for more than a year, while the “justice” system grinds on. With no end in sight.
A: You got it.
Q: I have one more question.
Q: What is wrong with us?