Wednesday, September 12, 2007

American Justice

Dave blogged recently about the Michael Vick case and his hope that justice will be served. I concur with that view. I want Vick to be treated justly, which means he should not receive either of the two extremes of Celebrity Justice: either being punished unduly harshly because of who he is and how much money he has, or paying a negligible penalty because of who he is and how much money he has.

Another disturbing legal situation that made headlines for months was the Duke University lacrosse team rape case, which turned out to be a case of wrongful accusation and vindictive prosecution. If you want to read a bit about it, follow this link to a review of a book called Until Proven Innocent.

The Duke story highlights how volatile race issues continue to be in the USA. I'm not denying that we've made tremendous progress in race relations during my lifetime. I grew up in the "liberal" northeast and I can assure you that racism there, notwithstanding the fact that it was expressed more subtly than Jim Crow, was just as deep and vicious as its southern counterpart. We've certainly come a long way since then, but the "reverse racism" of the Duke case demonstrates that we still have a long road to travel. This wretched episode shows all too clearly that all stereotypes and simplistic assumptions about race, class, gender, privilege and victimization inevitably, and tragically, undermine justice.

The judicial system is a particularly critical arena in which lives, livelihoods, reputations and careers are molded and broken every day. What happens there matters very much. Justice is not merely an ideal or an ethical code; it is the foundation of civilized social, economic and political interaction. Society's only option is to get it right every time.


bruno said...

I don't agree with your use of the expression "reverse racism". I think it's more appropriate to talk about "anti-white racism". the "reverse racism" expression actually promotes racist stereotypes against white people. Saying "reverse racism" implies there is a "norm" in racism (white people's racism toward other racial groups) and that racism is, somehow, a "white thing". This is wrong and prejudiced.

Please see my page : reverse racism Vs anti-white racism

Evie said...

Thanks for your feedback. The term you suggest, anti-white racism, is more precise than reverse racism.

Some may argue, however, that, historically, racism has been a norm among white people. After all, many of our ancestors conquered and enslaved people they believed to be inferior to the white "race." I would like to think we've moved beyond that way of thinking now, but I don't have any data to confirm (or refute) that.

There are some who believe that racism is an issue in the current Iraq War. Is there an unacknowledged background racism behind the US government's willingness to torture non-white terrorists? Some believe there is. Given our history, it's a question that needs to be examined.

Having said all that, "reverse racism" does imply underlying assumptions about the directions, sources and targets of prejudice that may not always be correct. Your term makes the target of the prejudice explicit. The implicit source of the prejudice would, of course, be assumed to be a non-white person.

Dave said...

While not diminishing the prosecutor's unethical conduct, one of the other grievous dynamics that alarmed me about the Duke case was that various community leaders, local and national, secular and religious, were extremely quick to stake their ground and pronounce judgments against the young men. Before the evidence has been evaluated these leaders were crying for these men being vigorously prosecuted. They kept the media attention red hot for months and dismissed outright any evidence that would suggest that these men were not guilty.

While crying loudly that justice must be served these community leaders were in their passion for pushing a political and/or ethnic agenda were undermining the justice system. Justice demands the impartial calm investigation, examination and evaluation they instilled into the soul of the case and justice system blind passion, summary judgment and political gamesmanship. The prosecutor is rightly being taken to task and shamed for his most in appropriate actions while those who primed the pump and repeatedly added gasoline to the fire walk away unscathed to repeat the same process elsewhere. As a nation we are poorer for their puffed up actions.

Evie said...

The book that I mentioned in the post discusses the wider community dynamics that were involved in this situation too. This was not just one disturbed woman and one ambitious attorney who conspired to ruin the lives of "privileged young white men." The entire community and the national media became polarized over this issue. This tragedy illustrates the damage that can be done by holding and acting upon uncontrolled prejudices.