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 Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

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

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  • http://feministing.com/members/cassius/ Brüno

    I think what many people tend to forget when they are personally involved is, that the court systems first and most important role is to protect its people from what has been the biggest abuser throuhout history. A countries own government left unchecked.

  • http://feministing.com/members/loewenclass/ Matt

    With regards to it being “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”, who is to say that that someone who has lost a daughter, sister, niece, community member, playmate, friend, etc. should not mourn her loss because its “unproductive”?

    You mentioned justice as a problem, that it should not be a mediator between us and our pain. Myths about the necessity of “productivity” should not substitute “justice”. You’re just doing the same thing with a different word.

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    I’m well aware that systemic justice is imperfect, but I don’t know if a serene acceptance is a solution. If nothing else, it would certainly be lying to myself and others about what I really think. The passage about it being more productive to work to prevent child abuse than be upset about someone dodging accountability sells short the human capacity for numerous emotions and actions. Why does it have to be either-or? A person can simultaneously feel upset about injustice, and motivated to prevent further instances of child abuse. Perhaps the unpleasant feeling of being upset over it could be the catalyst that leads a person to seek involving themselves with work or volunteer programs that prevent or intervene in child abuse, or any other social issue that they feel upset over.

  • http://feministing.com/members/vwalker233/ Veronika

    As someone who has been personally affected by childhood abuse both on a direct level and involvement with close friends going through similar situations, I absolutely agree with what is being said here. I don’t think Lori is in any way trying to insinuate that people should approach these cases with no emotion or to merely accept unfortunate circumstances and move on. From what I have observed through friends and acquaintences reactions to the case, people mostly have reactions based in raw emotion along the lines of,” oh, this case makes me sick.” “what is wrong with our country? I can’t believe she got off.” and things of that nature. While there is nothing inherently wrong with going through the basic necessity of processing emotions, thoughts and reactions to any tragedy, there is something wrong with the majority of people using a great portion of their time to sit and complain and write Facebook statuses and text their friends and basically just bitch about it. If this case and any others like it bother someone that much, then they should do something about it. Sign a petition, go volunteer your time, read a book studying child abuse or the confusing intracacies of law. Basically, just do something about it on either a personal or public level, because writing one more Facebook status about it isn’t going to do much of anything.