Where Is Justice?
Copyright 2023 by Mort Morford
Photo by Kindel Media at
years ago I was on a jury.
case was straight forward; a registered sex-offender had failed to
register his change of address.
was a slumped-over, shallow husk of a man.
had been abused and neglected as a child and, through-out his whole
life had been the victim of adults, impulses and, later, the legal
was just another cog in the system that seemed to keep squelching
what little humanity he had left in him.
duty as jurors was to consider the evidence regarding this situation.
He was clearly guilty.
what did our guilty verdict accomplish?
best, it just confirmed what he, and everyone else already knew; he
was a living, breathing reject: as unwanted and unwelcome at home as
he was in public or in potential places of employment.
what would justice look like? Where would justice be found?
did our civic duty, but just pushed him further on his grim journey
and cemented, again, his rapidly declining value and possible
contribution to society.
man, a cipher, even in his own eyes, carried the inevitability of his
own destruction embedded in his bones.
was the ultimate living example of “more sinned against than
had absorbed more abuse than most of us could bear to hear about, and
yet he blundered on – and, once again, held captive and
publicly shamed on a legal technicality.
our guilty verdict anything except confirmation of what he, and
everyone knew, or at least thought they knew, of this man?
one from the community appeared to speak in his defense.
his court appointed lawyer had nothing to say except a plea for a
never spoke to him. Or even heard his voice.
sat silent in the courtroom, knowing that there was, and apparently
would always and only be, one verdict – guilty. Unwanted.
Beyond redemption. Long past forgiveness.
yet how could this be?
we, at some level, however shallow and ineffectual, a “Christian”
nation, or even, in a purely secular sense, a culture that believed
in justice, redemption and restoration.
didn’t know anything of his parents or his childhood, or where
he worked or went to school, but surely someone in his cast of
characters surrounding his life considered him a friend or neighbor,
surely someone treated him with kindness and recognition and respect.
must have been someone who didn’t abuse, mock and betray him.
what would justice look like?
justice was just another slap, insult and “brick in the wall”.
what of anything like eternal justice?
religions point to a paradise where we are united with loved ones –
with family and friends.
what of a lost soul like this, who was betrayed, abused and assaulted
by those who should have loved him?
would he meet in eternity? Who would he want to meet? Who would be
eager to meet him?
he see those who tormented him and made his life miserable?
he be obligated, or even inclined to forgive them?
they ask for his forgiveness? Have they been waiting for it?
is eternal hell the only place for them? And him?
even more pain, shame and suffering this poor man’s destiny –
even on an eternal scale?
like to believe in redemption, in, as the song “Amazing Grace”
puts it, every “wretch” would be “found” and
this man was like a black hole, sucking like a cosmic vacuum, every
good and light thing of the world into eternal darkness and
inhumanity to man is no abstraction to people like this, there is no
“survival of the fittest” – there is just the
brutish “survival” of those who feed upon the weaknesses
of others, and those victims, like him, scarred and numbed forever,
never finding a friendly face or a healing glance or word.
every abuser perhaps, he had been abused and felt the compulsion to
continue the abuse. He was guilty and ashamed, and labeled for life.
But somehow he was, or could be, or might have been something more; a
human being with gifts and visions to share.
was created to walk upon the earth free and full of delight and joys
to be shared. Surely someone in his childhood saw him and liked what
they saw. Can any one of us go through life without someone
appreciating who we are?
world is full of victims. Most of them nameless hulks that fill our
streets and prisons. Few of us know their names. And most of us don’t
each one of those addicts and homeless wanderers had parents and home
and school mates and neighbors.
somehow they were emptied and broken and were blurred beyond our
recognition, and, once in a while an individual, like this man
emerges in a courtroom or headline.
what can they tell us in their mute testimony?
love stories of courage and success in spite of seemingly
insurmountable obstacles. But we don’t love to hear stories of
those crushed by overwhelming forces.
don’t want to hear stories of victims defeated and emptied.
a world, or at least a culture, obsessed with youth and beauty and
success, here was its opposite; a still-breathing human that no one
wanted, no one claimed and no one defended.
was no victory in our verdict, no sense that “justice was
legal system, in this case, was like a factory assembly-line with
“Next” as the calling card to the next trial, the next
case, the next set of pathetic and befuddled defendants – with
little or no “defense” for their actions or who they had
become. Or even who their lawyers represented them to be.
always wanted to see, and believe in, the good in people - in what
Abraham Lincoln called our “better angels”.
a situation like this, there is no “good” outcome –
no one looks good, no one is glad or proud of the part they played.
year or two later, I am writing this in the aftermath of yet another
conflict-related injury between my grandchildren.
4-year-old grandson hit his brother, my 10-year-old grandson in the
eye – necessitating a trip to the emergency room and a local
were literally in the doorway, packed to go home, when a possible
life-time eye-injury, thanks to a toy swung wildly, emerged out of
10-year-old exaggerates and fakes injury continually so we never know
if he is truly injured or howling for effect.
this case he was actually injured.
rivalry, often to the point of murder and self-destruction is as old
as human history.
Cain and Able to Jacob and Esau to the “Sons of Thunder”,
the Bible, if not every scripture and set of mythologies, is dense
with fraternal conflict. And sisters can be just hurtful.
as in the jury situation, where is justice? What would justice look
would restoration and any kind of healing look like?
is anything positive accomplished?
neither case can we just go on as if nothing happened. And we cannot
go back and “fix” anything.
keep going in our lives, injured, categorized, broken, imprisoned and
labeled for life.
is as illusory as ever. Burdens, fears and wounds are as real as they
could offer solace to each other.
even to ourselves.
we could only let go of the resentments, the what-ifs, the lingering
feuds and assumptions.
if you know anything of human history, you know how unlikely that is.
national or personal, shows us that resentments and distrust are
almost hard-wired into the human psyche.
short, we need an intervention.
a glance at human history shows that every generation or so we have a
prophet that shows us another, better way. They do their best to
convince us that we are not bound to a life of injury, revenge and
we also know that few of those prophets live long.
don’t want to hear their message.
distrust and violence have become familiar, even our home.
the suggestion of reconciliation is a threat.
out like toddlers in a tantrum has become our modus operandi, our
operating principle from households to national boundaries. The
ability to “strike first” has become not only our
personal “right” but our compelling national policy –
and the bulk of our budget.
might be the foundation of any continuing culture and civilization,
but war keeps the adrenaline going. And the promise of conquest is a
never-dimming vision for autocrats and dictators (and abusers) of all
20th Century was essentially defined by the
convergence of two opposing forces; our love for progress and our
determination to annihilate ourselves.
the first time in human history (presumably) we had the means to
destroy all of human history – and, of course, the possibility
of bringing safety and security to the bulk of humanity.
one would say we prevailed, but we did make it out of the 20th
Century, even though we now have challenges few of us could have
imagined back then. From intense weather formations to plastic (or
other chemical) pervasiveness (from the environment to our blood
stream) human-created (or at least human facilitated)
life-threatening hazards are everywhere.
so is the promise of healing and reconciliation.
is nothing inevitable about self-destruction. From empires to drug
addicts or criminals, we humans need to believe that there is another
way, a way, that defies all odds, and circumstances, a way that is
open to all, even those the rest of us have given up on.
those who have given up on themselves.
does justice look like? It looks like not giving up.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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