Justice As It Pertains To Peace: An Opinion

I will preface this post by saying two things. First, I do not often stand up and make social or political commentary on my blogs. Everyone has a right to their own opinions, and I value that right. I do not try to throw my own viewpoints onto others. However, I believe that viewpoints affect our personal mindsets and, therefore, health. Second, I believe that, at a certain point, people ought to stand up for what is right, not for what is easy. This post is an opinion and it not easy to write because it discusses topics many consider social taboos. I respect your opinion to believe that. I only ask that you respect mine as well.

 

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Van Heemskerck. Iustitia. Wikimedia commons.

Perhaps you have heard of this:

Florida: A young African-American teenager is gunned down by a Hispanic-white neighborhood watchman. The watchman claims that he acted in self-defense.

Or how about this:

Knoxville: a young couple were kidnapped, gang-raped (the woman for four days), tortured, and eventually murdered. Five suspects are in custody.

The first case will sound very familiar. The death of Trayvon Martin has hit home in many communities due to widespread media coverage, political and social commentary. People are outraged that a youth has been murdered by someone who is supposed to protect them. The parents want closure. They want justice.

The second case is less well-known; you may never have even heard of it. In fact, I did not until I saw a post on Facebook. The couple names were Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian. They suffered genital mutilation, humiliation, torture by fire, and death. The district attorney general is not sure whether or not he will seek the death penalty. Their families, too, want closure. They want justice.

What makes me upset about the latter is a simple statement made my an acquaintance of mine. See, the person who started the spread of the Newsom/Christian case asked a few questions and made a few assumptions. S/he asked where the media was. Why politicians were not speaking out against the crimes. Why there was no social outrage. His/her answer: the couple was Caucasian.

And the statement that upset me: If this is your viewpoint on things, I’m very disappointed in you.

My response is, and will always remain the same. Murder, regardless of whom is killed, is wrong. My reason for posting the incident (as I said before, everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, even the person who started the Facebook post) is to bring awareness. Murder happens every day to whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, drug addicts, wealthy business men, the stay-at-home mother next door. You name gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other distinction that separates us into groups and you’ll have yourself a murder victim.

Murder destroys lives.

Murder destroys families.

Murder can, and does, destroy communities.

Halle (Saale). Allegory of Justice. Wikimedia commons.

Think about that for a moment. Murder destroys communities. America, supposedly the most open-minded of countries, cannot get past the issue of race (or gender or sexual orientation…etc). Whether we want to admit it or not, hate crimes abound. In fact, our distinctions–what makes us different–are used against us. Politicians capitalize on voting blocs. (To another outcome, businesses also highlight distinctions.) They target specific groups of people, talk about the issues that trouble that specific community. They want us to know that we are different, that skin color or ethnicity, or gender, or what have you identifies you as different and–they propose with toothy grins–unique. Divide and conquer, as the old adage goes. Politics is a game of power, of domination, of control. And, as another saying states, it corrupts absolutely.

That was why the American founders instituted a separation of powers. Pertaining the justice, this idea states that judges and justices, free from manipulations of a group of politicians, may dutifully administer investigations and punishments to those responsible for crimes. They administer justice. They give closure to families, friends, and communities by upholding what is right, what is true, and what is good.

I have lived overseas. I have been a minority. I have been looked at with suspicion and regard because of past histories between America and the country I lived in. I have overcome those suspicions. I went out of my way to show respect and politeness. I went out of my way to be humane and honest. I was told by many natives that I was a rare exception to the Americans they’ve known.

Why? I believe it is because we place an unhealthy emphasis on distinctions. I have spent many hours in the company of foreign nationals. Inevitably, we get on the subject of the differences between America and Country X. They ask me why Americans are so bent on black vs. white, Christians vs. atheists, young vs. old, gay marriage vs. traditional marriage, etc. My usual response is to say that we are blinded by our fears–for which we excuse, soothe, or deny with our personal beliefs–and our innate nature to destroy.

Yes, I’ve said it. Man is destructive. Why else has virtually every race, every religion, every philosophy, every belief system and tradition placed such a huge emphasis on self-control–one’s actions, words, and thoughts–until very recently? Why else are there sayings like, If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all? Why do practitioners of Jainism live in asceticism and isolation? Why do Buddhist friends of mine speak out against cruelty toward all living creatures? Why does the Christian strive to overcome his dark parts through study, meditation, and prayer? Why does anyone?

History is full of hatred. As a student of history, I thrive on researching it. I am fascinated by it. I do so for my writing but also for myself. I have come to believe that one of the reasons for hatred (and there are many, in my opinion) is that believe too strongly in our distinctions. However, I do not believe that–particularly in this day an age when the Internet is at our fingertips–that we can excuse our outbursts or our vengeance on misunderstandings. We can understand if we choose to open our eyes. Understanding, I also believe, is a choice: to learn or to ignore. Mind you, learning does not require an education. You don’t need a degree to see that something troubles the crying person “from the wrong side of the tracks.” Where you learn is by choosing to act…or not.

Peace, then, comes from mastering the side of ourselves that seeks vengeance, that wants to lash out at another because of the hurtful thing they said or did, or because our parents told us that the color of their skin makes them less than human. No man, regardless of skin tone, is less than human. What makes him humane or inhumane is how he acts when faced with fears, new situations, or those whom he believes are in the wrong.

Peace, then, requires constant self-study. Peace comes when each individual tries to treat others better than themselves. Peace does not arise from a political or social organization telling everyone what to think, how to behave, or what is “peaceful.” That is tyranny. Such behavior infringes on the innate rights of mankind: to choose who and what to be, and to act accordingly.

This does not mean that you cannot have your own beliefs and opinions. I certainly do. I’m not ashamed of them; neither should you be. They help make you who and what you are. Rather, you should use your beliefs and opinions to guide your actions, to help make the lives of those around you better. When you strive to reach out and touch another life, you bring peace. You bring goodness.

Pinacoteca Tosio-Martinengo (Brescia, Italy). Iustitia et Pax. Wikimedia commons.

What I am ashamed of is that true justice may never be truly done in the Martin case because the system of justice has been hampered by social pressures and political intervention–something the American founders fought to avoid. What I am ashamed of is that most deaths, like the Newsom/Christian case, go unnoticed by external eyes. (I do not think that they need to have massive media coverage or politicians weighing in. Rather, they should be remembered by their families, friends, and communities for the good things they brought to Life.) What I am ashamed of is the callousness of American society at large: that we would tell a friend about our disappointment in them because they shared a viewpoint that differs from our own; that society glorifies unwholesome things in music and movies but demonstrate when one of them happens to a young man or woman; that we cling to our distinctions, and therefore our prejudices, rather than mastering ourselves so that we may be better citizens. Public servants, as the term was formerly called. For, although man might have a destructive nature, he was given the gift of reason to conquer it.

Through reason, through self-restraint, peace is possible. When one is at peace, one’s health is better, one’s mind is clearer, one’s intentions are more wholesome and bent toward goodness. When goodness is done, there is less hatred, less ignorance, and less crime. Choices become clearer. Then, when another chooses to commit an unlawful wrong, justice can be delivered, unhampered.

Rest in peace, Trayvon Martin, Christopher Newsom, and Channon Christian. Though I never knew you, I hope for the best: that justice is served to those who committed the crimes and that we, as a people, will strive to better ourselves. May your families, friends, and communities find peace, for strengthening peace is the power of love.

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