“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” (Elie Wiesel)
“Your honor, I plead not guilty to the two charges of speeding that I received in this municipality on back-to-back days last month. I know that you, as a judge, understand that criminal law is all about intent. I come before you today to state that I not only did not intend to speed, but that my intention was to only drive the speed limit. As I told both of the officers who pulled me over, that I had my cruise control set on the speed limit, so that I would not speed. Your honor, I was not in a hurry, I had planned my trip to reach my destination here in South Carolina with time to spare by driving the speed limit. I do this every week as a traveling salesman, as I drive from Atlanta, Georgia, to visit clients all over the southeastern United States. And, over the past two years of doing this, last month was the first time I have ever been pulled over for speeding.”
“After I told the first officer, who pulled me over that I was using the cruise control at the legal speed limit, he said he clocked me going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit with his radar. On the next day when I was pulled over again for speeding, I explained to the patrol officer that this was the second time in two days that I was pulled over for going 10 miles an hour over the speed limit even though my cruise control was set on the speed limit. This time I even left my car running so that he could look at my dashboard and see that I was not lying. He refused to look at it, and told me that according to his radar gun I was speeding, that he would have to give me a ticket, and that I could appear in court if I wanted to argue it.”
“At that point, your honor, I figured that if I gotten 2 speeding tickets in 2 days with my cruise control set on the speed limit, then there must be a problem with my car’s speedometer or with my cruise control. So, I took my car to a mechanic who specialized in speedometer calibration certification. After his examination of my car, he provided me with a notarized Speedometer Calibration Certificate that states that my car’s speedometer is off by 5 miles per hour. So, when I honestly thought I was driving 55 miles per hour, I was actually unknowingly and unintentionally driving 60 miles per hour. That’s why I took the time off from work to drive all the way back here and present this evidence to you, sir. You see, I only broke the law by accident, and have since rectified the situation so that I can’t do that again. Therefore, your honor, since I had no knowledge that I was violating the law, nor had any intent to do so, as criminal law requires for guilt, I respectfully ask you to find me not guilty.”
Without hesitation he replied, “So you just admitted to driving 5 miles an hour over the speed limit. That’s still speeding. We’ll split the difference and only charge you half the fine. Guilty. Next case.”
My jaw dropped, and in that moment — 30 years ago — I realized that there was no justice to be had in that court, that their only goal was revenue collection.
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” (Benjamin Franklin)
The concept of justice has been on my mind quite a bit lately. It’s something that has been important to me most of my life. I remember standing up and putting my hand over my heart, every morning when I was in school, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But it was the final phrase that really resonated with me: with liberty and justice for all. I was living in a nation that stood for justice – for everyone! I believe those words were so meaningful to me because I had been bullied as a child. As a result, I have had a great deal of empathy for people who have been bullied.
Not just kids, but anyone who is beaten down, or taken advantage of by someone who has power over them, whether it is physical strength, wealth, or the law. I was proud of my country for representing this virtue, but now I’m not so sure it does.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines justice as the quality of being just, impartial, or fair (it defines just as being what is merited: deserved). I have always thought of justice as simply as everyone playing by the same rules.
“Laws catch flies, but let hornets go free.” (Scottish Proverb on Justice)
Today we have corporations that pay politicians to write laws favoring them. Government taxes us on so many things that it threatens our very survival. We have a private banking system that is able to rob us by inflating our currency. Civil Forfeiture laws allow municipalities to steal property from people without due process of law. The U.S. Supreme Court re-interpreted the Constitution to allow municipalities to steal land through eminent domain for private purposes. Police brutalize citizens with impunity. People are jailed for consuming certain plants. I could go on, but it seems that if you are rich enough and powerful enough, the rules don’t apply to you. When the people at the top don’t follow the rules, there’s a trickle-down effect and people all down the socio-economic ladder will bully, cheat, defraud, steal, and worse. Justice, like honor, is a virtue that must be modeled.
Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, observed that, “One of the best ways to achieve justice is to expose injustice.” So, he lived by his words and exposed injustice, and now the powerful bullies of the world, who objected to his shining a light on their crimes, have locked him in a cage.
I always assumed that truth and justice would prevail, that is until I personally experienced the lack of it myself. If we all wait until we’ve experienced injustice to become an advocate for justice, then we are going to lose the battle for this virtue to the powerful bullies of the world.
Thomas Jefferson said: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
I suspect it is true for justice as well.