Justice is a term often used to denote a political or social mechanism to restore an offended party to its pre-injury condition, yet we live in a world of perverted justice, which tends to, in fact, not create harmony among individuals for the sake of social cooperation. Instead, the current paradigm disproportionately tends to seek a convoluted concept of fairness in order to quench the moral desires of the majority or to satisfy the political appetites of those who stand to gain from taking action.
In the first case, an Arizona woman struggling to make ends meet and caring for three young children was charged with two counts of felony child abuse. The circumstances surrounding the charges involved the morning of March 20, when Ms. Taylor went to a job interview. Because of a lack of appropriate resources, she left her children in the car with the windows cracked and the fan on. On that day, it was 71 degrees in Scottsdale, and bystanders were alerted when they discovered the children in the car crying. Ultimately, her children were found to have suffered no harm, and Ms. Taylor is now free on bail and awaiting trial.
In the second case, five black and Latino teenagers were wrongly charged and convicted of the rape of a Central Park jogger in 1989. After all the men were placed in jail, the true criminal came forward and confessed. It was subsequently revealed that several purposeful missteps were executed on the part of many individuals from the initial police investigation and throughout the men’s experiences in the criminal justice system. A highly compelling film documents the entire dilemma and blatant miscarriage of justice.
I must admit that when I first read about Ms. Taylor’s case, I felt compassion and was not compelled to judge. Yes, her decision was not the most ideal or rational, but this poor decision making in and of itself should not be criminalized when there is no subsequent damage to the alleged “victims.” Thankfully, the children that were in her car were medically cleared and continued to do well. Ms. Taylor’s case exists in a very large gray area, but it seems her intent to find a better job and provide for her family was an admirable one. And in the process of her intent, she decided to make sacrifices with others in mind. Hence, in an attempt to escape her current predicament, she attempts to pursue happiness, liberty, and a better life for her family. If her choices are limited, and society then penalizes the admirable pursuit of said choices, what is anyone else to expect? Are not, then, her pursuits of happiness in vain? Is a mother neglectful in trying to provide for her children?
Morality tends to condemn Ms. Taylor, while justice intends to penalize her, leaving no room for a self-directed escape from her current predicament. Consequentialism is valued because the results can be easily quantified, observed, and, therefore, objectively judged. Considerations of intent are often dismissed because no reliable measure exists to quantify such a subjective, vague, and personal trait.
At a news conference in April, Bill Montgomery, a Maricopa County attorney, said, “I’ll point out that not a single communication that’s come into [my] office as of yet has mentioned at all the position that those two young children were put in. Everything has focused on the mother.”
Each count of child abuse that Ms. Taylor is charged with carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. Keeping the children in mind, does any rational person think they will be better or worse without a mother for the next 14 years? To convict Ms. Taylor in the pursuit of “justice” will actually cause far more harm than it’s worth and will conveniently absolve all of us who suffer from moral pride from actually considering the myriad of factors that put families into inescapable and treacherous scenarios and condemn them into a void where judgment triumphs over mercy. Who will bear the burden of taking away a child’s mother for 14 years? Is it justice?
In the case of the Central Park Five, the men involved collectively received an amount of $40 million from the city of New York. The case did not go to trial and was settled out of court. As part of that settlement, the city of New York did not have to admit any wrongdoing. Many voices have called the settlement “justice” and finally declared that the whole episode is behind us, yet nothing could be further from the truth.
First, the $40-million sum will be paid by the taxpayers to the victims. Essentially, the innocent are taxed for the iniquities of a few, and the guilty remain unpunished. Second, the city admits to no wrong, and no one takes responsibility for purposefully doing wrong. The evildoers can quietly fade into the background and find peace because “justice has been served.” Who knows what other atrocious acts the members of law enforcement and the legal system will be able to enact since their ethical depravity will forever go unchecked. Monetary compensation may restore the victims to an extent, but it also completely ignores, and therefore condones, the malevolent forces that caused the problem in the first place.
Herein lies the central problem of the contemporary perception of fairness: perverted justice narrows its focus on a selected area of the problem while true justice takes a step back and analyzes all variables in the context of a larger system.
At the end of the day, I am ecstatic that the men involved in this case were exonerated and they received some form of restitution, but I think nothing can make up for all the time they spent in jail (collectively, more than three decades) or the trauma the entire ordeal caused them. The result that we are left with today has quenched the moral ache of the majority for something to be done and gives those with the political power to take action a sense of legitimacy. True, restitutive justice would force all those who knowingly did wrong to step forward and admit guilt. It would also mandate that this same group serve the same amount of time in jail as the longest-serving member of the Central Park Five. Lastly, it would demand monetary compensation to be paid exclusively by the offenders directly to the victims. Only in this way can the victims be somewhat restored to their pre-injury conditions and the victimizers carry the burden of the wrongs they have committed.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal