Rape Cops, DSK, Casey Anthony, And Accepting Justice As Imperfect

Jos wrote a brilliant post back in May about what she means when she talks about justice.

Lately, on the heels of her thoughts and several high-profile acquittals, including a rape case against a high-profile French politician being dropped because the victim’s “lack of credibility,” and the acquittal last month of two NYPD officers who were recorded entering their accuser’s home on four different occasions in the same night while lying about it, and who had previously harassed an intoxicated young woman while on duty, I’ve become interested in talking about justice as imperfect.

Justice is a lot of things, but it’s first and foremost a concept. Sure, it has real-life, tangible implications: a parking ticket, a middle school detention slip, a prison sentence, a financial reward. Sometimes, people are killed in the name of justice. And there are all different kinds: vigilante, state-sanctioned, interpersonal.

But justice itself is abstract by definition. You can’t hold it in your hand, or give it to someone as a gift. And this is something we often forget: for something that doesn’t actually physically exist, we sure expect a lot out of it.

We as a community look to justice to “make things right”: to heal our pain (or at least make sense of it), vindicate us, make up for the loss of our loved ones. In many ways, it’s doomed to fail because of the expectations we’ve placed upon it.

In fact, there are very few other concepts from which we expect as much as we do from justice. We don’t have entire government systems devoted to upholding things like peace, love, or happiness (although maybe we’d be better off if we did!), nor do we have people appointed to pursuing them, or accountable for achieving them, as we do for justice.

In reality, justice often functions as a compromise. It’s wishy-washy, imperfect, fleeting, unsatisfying. And its meaning changes over time.

But for me, part of being an adult is realizing that there really is no such thing as justice-as-entity. There’s no “Lady Justice”. There’s not even a judge that can fix things completely for you, or make things totally fair and right and as they should be.

Meaning, maybe we’re all looking for too much out of this. Not too much from the system, or from the people that run it. But too much from the concept itself. Maybe we’re all looking for some perfect form of justice that just doesn’t exist.

In her post yesterday on the Casey Anthony trial, Zerlina mentioned that the tragic death of a young child is hardly an anomaly, and it is much more productive to target our energy and work towards preventing abuse of children before it leads to death than to be upset about whether or not someone was found guilty and held accountable for that death.

I agree with this, and I’d feel a little better if we stopped obsessing over justice as an all-encompassing concept, as a silver bullet, as a great healer, as a third-party mediator between us and our pain, and started thinking about it more as a daily way of life.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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