Monday, April 1, 2013

Not my kind of justice

This headline makes me ill:

‘Justice is death’

So says the prosecutor handling the case of James Holmes, the alleged Aurora shooter. (In case all the rabid kill-him-now crowd forgets, he is still just alleged, with the state not yet having offered any proof in a trial.) 

It makes me ill. The idea that justice requires the state to kill someone, well that's no kind of justice I want any part of. This sounds a lot more like blood-lust to me, vengeance. Vengeance and justice are fundamentally incompatible with each other.

The state could have had this over with. They could have a finding of guilt. They could have the defendant committed to secure facilities for the rest of his life. They could have saved the state millions of dollars and everyone involved the strain of decades of living with this case. They could have it all over. But, no. A guilty verdict and life in prison wasn't good enough. They just have to get a death sentence, blood for blood. So they rejected Holmes' attorney's attempts to settle the case, to save everyone the time and emotional energy of a trial, not to mention the expense. 

Justice is supposed to be moral rightness, something based on reason, ethics, law, fairness. The whole idea of the social contract is that when we come together and form this intentional society, we put aside our natural state where our lives would be nasty, brutish, and short. In the state of nature, we would resort to coarser responses, to vengeance. But as a just society, we're supposed to be capable of something more, something better. As the Federalist Papers asked, 

Why has government been instituted at all? Because the passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice, without constraint. ( The Federalist, 15)
There's nothing rational about this need to spend millions of dollars because incarcerating a man for the rest of his life isn't enough payback for his actions. Would this prosecutor think justice really demands killing him 12 times, once for each of his victims? There's nothing just or righteous or moral about turning away from a fair and swift resolution of a case in the hopes that you can one day pin a man down to a gurney and plunge a needle into his arm. There's nothing just about insisting on doing back to him what he did to others.

What this prosecutor is doing has a lot of names, but justice isn't one of them.

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