A Call for Inclusive “Justice”

In the charged atmosphere of the race-based protests in Baltimore and across the country, there seem to be never-ending references to “justice.” Protestors yell “No justice, no peace,” Baltimore’s chief prosecutor, Marilyn J. Mosby, promised to “seek justice” on behalf of Baltimore youth, and throughout marginalized communities can be heard appeals for “justice to be served.”

The immense amount of pain being expressed seems to have everyone pointing at “justice” to rectify the situation. But what does that “justice” entail? Does everyone even agree to its definition?

Our traditional conception of “justice” is administered by the criminal court system, which is largely penal in nature. It does not provide space for victims/survivors and their families to express their grief, nor does it allow offenders to express their emotions. There is no support given to victims/survivors and their families, and there are few opportunities for rehabilitation for offenders once convicted and sent to prison.

The criminal court system is an attempt to fulfill societal needs of fairness, equality, safety, order, and so on, but in the United States it has taken on a particularly punitive dimension that ultimately alienates the people most directly involved as the system gallops ahead on a quest for retribution.

As our country is convulsing with the pain of historically institutionalized racism, marginalization, and prejudice, there is another need that is bellowing to be met: the need for each and every person’s inherent human value to be recognized and affirmed. The court system is ill equipped to satisfy this need, as it focuses on judgment and punishment, as opposed to community empowerment and reparation.

I call on us to collectively redefine “justice” to help assuage fears and protect lives. I am unwilling to be told by our current court system to heal through more hate and violence. In these moments of collective suffering, we have the opportunity to listen to one another and to recognize that we have all become manifestations of a system that has polarized us since the founding of our country. We need a justice that is capable of bearing that weight.

So I propose an alternative. I want my voice heard. I want to hear the voices of the victims, the survivors, and their families. I want to hear the voices of the police officers who inflicted harm on individuals and entire communities, as well as the police officers who risk their lives to faithfully serve the public. I want a forum for deep pain. I want us to taste each other’s tears, touch the fire of each other’s anger, feel the skip of each other’s fearful hearts, and hold the space for those who are no longer among us. This is our Justice.