Seeking Solidarity: Equal Justice Under Law Requires Just Laws

The highly politicized and polarizing cases involving the death of Freddie Gray and the officers implicated in his death have all been dismissed. The outcry is great as the demand for justice is great. Despite the relative political and social views, there is a great outcry for justice. In our time, we see people everywhere thirsting for justice, both in our nation and abroad. We demand justice for the police officers killed. We demand justice for those killed by police officers. We demand justice for the victims of ISIS and other terror attacks. We demand justice for the refugees from the Middle East. The whole earth cries out for justice, culminating in one plaintive choir to the Almighty.

Yet, justice is a tricky thing. In his dialogue, “The Republic” Plato examines the nature of Justice. Indeed, most remember the book for its utopian city and allegory of the cave. But few recall that the initial question, the interrogatory that started that dialogue was the question: What is Justice?

In the dialogue, Cephalus, Polemarchus, and Thrasymachus each give a definition of justice respectively: giving what is owed, giving good to friends and evil to enemies, and enforcing the will of the stronger. In our own times, we can see these definitions being touted by various politicians and thinkers. How often do we see someone explain justice as “balancing” scales between two parties? How often do we see justice explained as the giving of goods from one person we dislike to another we like? How often is justice awarded to the one who fought harder?

Yet all these things are not justice. The first is wrong because, strictly taken, it reduces everything to a monetary or material exchange. No price can be placed on the death of a loved one; no one can return life where it is taken. The second is wrong because it would prejudice one group simply because we do not favor them. Justice becomes a benefice on those in favor and a curse to those who are out. The third is wrong because it is an arbitrary standard, dependent on the whims of the powerful.

Justice is a habit, guided by prudence and censured by mercy, by which we render to each person according to their due. While this may seem like the first definition, the due involved is not based on a monetary or legal claim, but on the inherent dignity of man. It is in this dignity, shared by all men of all races, colors, and creeds, that gives man his rights or, from the Latin, his Iura. Indeed, the word justice comes from the Latin word meaning “law,” “right” or “duty.” It is the laws of nature and nature’s God that endows us with this dignity and these rights. They cannot be taken away; they cannot be created. Our rights preexist the rights offered by governments and supersede them. No constitution can afford any right other than what man has already. Determining those rights is one of the fundamental human questions that the whole human race seeks the answer to.

It is in this way we can perceive what government protects our rights as opposed to one that does not rather than appealing to 200 year old compositions on vellum. We can say the killing of young black Americans is wrong, not because of an amendment to a human body of law, but because the rights of man entitle them to the Right to Life, from conception to natural death. We can say the same for the police officer and the refugee and the host countries’s citizens.

But why do I still speak of rights when we are talking about justice? Well, the Latins had the right idea conflating law, rights, and duty into one word. With such rights, we have the duty to mete out what is due to each according to their rights. It is a great duty incumbent on the rights themselves. In essence, we do not affect justice when the duties associated with those rights are not accomplished. Rights to property, for example, are held not for hoarding or dissipation in rakish fashion, but for the sustaining of life. The abundance of property is by no means needed for sustaining the life of the immediate owner and so the duty of charity is incumbent on the owner to take what he does not need and help sustain others.

Take an example of a poor man and a rich man. The poor man has, through no real fault of his own, scant means for his provision. The rich man has ample store with which to be comfortable and aid the poor man. The rich man does the poor man an injustice by hoarding those goods which, were the world truly fair and equal, would ordinarily provide for the poor man. The duty on the poor man, when given from the excesses of others, is to put it to good use and for the advancement of his state in life. Were he derelict in his duty, he would do an injustice to the rich man, though the justice of the rich man, regardless of the poor man’s dereliction, would have been satisfied. In other words, the failing of one person’s duty does not invalidate the accomplishment of another’s. The rich man has acted justly regardless of whether the poor man has. In the same manner, the poor man acts justly when he works within his means to advance his status and is not invalidated by the failing of the rich man.

Justice is something we clamor for, but is it something we will work for? Not work in the sense of protests or demonstrations, but are we willing to work for justice by being just? The American Solidarity Party seeks to promote a more just society by affecting justice at the lowest levels, starting with the individual and ending in our global partnerships. If we want to make this world more just and receive justice, we must be just ourselves by fulfilling the duties our rights place upon us. Here are three ways we can fulfill our duties specifically with regard to the recent shootings.

First: Every community must move swiftly, through public dialogue, to foster trust and understanding between police and the citizens they serve. Voices that are often ignored must now be heard.

Second: Each community must determine for itself the best way to improve relations and outcomes. For some, this may involve the use of body cameras and the permanent or temporary storage of the images they contain. For others, improved police presence outside of emergency situations would be the most significant step forward. Still others may decide to restrict the pool of candidates for law enforcement to residents of the city or surrounding communities.

Third: groups of police, city administrators, and citizens should be formed to review the effects of new policies and their reception by the public.

These measures will help to restore the mutual trust and sense of community that are essential to a peaceful society. But in the long run, they are not enough. As Dr. King also remarked, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we would have a peaceful and prosperous society, we must eradicate all forms of injustice—in our laws, in our economic relations, and in our foreign and domestic policies. Only when our society is firmly rooted in solidarity will the threat of violence truly be diminished.

It worked for Poland.

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