Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Re: Tookie, Justice and Revenge 

[Note: Please see the original post here]

Well Jason, first I would like to note that this topic seems to be a reoccurring one, as it has appeared several times before on Maroonblog: Once surrounding Star Wars and once again when I reviewed Batman Begins. Second, I think it is interesting that you frame the question the way that you do: "Why isn't killing Tookie for revenge just?" It is a different approach to the question, since I was pondering whether killing Tookie at all is just. The point of contention to me is that revenge, by its very nature and definition, supersedes and usurps the demands of justice. We frown on the vigilante who kills the murderer on his way to the courtroom, not because he didn't perhaps deserve to die, but because we recognize that this is not the manner in which he should have been brought to justice. While justice may seem to encompass revenge, revenge cannot conversely encompass justice. Killing for revenge implies the emotional demands of the individual, angry and slighted, outweigh the moral and legal norms that bind out society and govern the concept of "balancing justice" you alluded to. Killing for revenge alone is no more "justice" than undo mercy and clemency is. As Douglas Kern put it so well:
"Mercy is not a good unto itself. Mercy is a counterbalance, a brake against justice as it brushes up against the edge of vengeance. Evil wreaks harm that ripples far, far beyond the intended harm of the evil act itself. Justice permits the doer of evil to be held accountable for every iota of harm that ensues as a result of the evil act, and that reckoning can be terrible indeed. Mercy requires men to punish evil with only the minimum degree of punishment and retribution consistent with justice, so that repentance and reconciliation may restore the evildoer to society, and so that the vengeful spirit of victims may be allayed. But notice: mercy requires the minimal degree of punishment consistent with justice."
(the emphasis is mine)

He agrees that the "vengeful spirit" must be allayed to some extent, but only in the sense that reciprocity should fit the crime, and function to the betterment of the the victim, society, and if possible the criminal. That he repeatedly remarks on "the minimal degree" is no coincidence either: It is only in the most extreme cases that the death penalty is even granted in California. Justice is about atonement Jason, not Revenge. Killing Tookie only came about because his actions demanded such recourse from our standard of justice, not because of the feelings or actions of a vengeful third party. As well it should be.

In reply to Andrew (hey, we don't do this very often, and sometimes we just want to be like Crescat)

Atonement is a religious term one usually uses to say one has reconciled relations between themself and God. Now, unless you're saying that Tookie's blood is washing away the evil he wrought, in a sort of blood-sacrifice, I don't think atonement is the right word. In what you're saying, justice puts the scale back to neutral, and removes strife between the harmer and the harmed, after justice is executed. Really, I don't think that's how we view justice any more. If that was the case we wouldn't look poorly on ex-felons when we hire, for example. Our sense of justice appeals to something very different than setting the scales right--either to a higher cosmic scale--or to a sense of justice that has the primary focus not on atonement but on something else. You say, Andrew, that the primary focus is on the satiating the victim and society first, and then the criminal. Once one has been convicted, we care little about the criminal. After they've served their time, they are still stigmatized by society. So, by your own words, justice is not about atonement, because if it was after you do the time, you would be equal again on the scales.

Now, I think a problem of how I presented my question is that I didn't make it clear that I meant revenge being done within the constraints of justice. You're right, not all revenge is just. However, not all just actions exclude revenge. Part of our concept of justice, even when it's performed by the moderating hand of our governmental institutions, still contrains revenge. And even then one needs to remember that justice transcends the contraints we have placed on it to make it clearer and less prone to license: when the murder is killed by a vigilante the vigilante may be acquited because the jury decides that the action was just despite its illegality. That's one of the beauties of our judicial system, actually, in that the final decision to deprive liberty is left to laypeople who will work from a broad conception of justice, one that may not be in line with the laws on the books.

There was an interesting episode of Boston Legal on tonight where one of the attorneys at the firm is acquited after, in the previous weeks episode, he impersonated an FBI officer (with the winking approval of an FBI agent), kidnapped someone to gain information, and accidentally cut several fingers off of a priest. The hilarity of this circumstance aside, the man was acquited by the jury because he did all of those illegal things to get the location of child that was kidnapped by a pedophile. His efforts saved that child from abuse and likely death at the hands of the pedophile.

Now, while the pedophile may not be convicted because his rights were violated, the child was none-the-less saved.

It always needs to be remembered that justice is not always the same as what we would call good, and justice does not mean do no harm.

To segue into the debate on torture going on right now, because I think there are a lot of similarities between the Tookie debate and the torture debate, people argue that we can't do torture of any kind, or harm far short of torture such as applying stress and strong interrogation techniques to terrorists, because that's not good and we'd be doing harm. Many of the same people opposed executing Tookie because they believe the government should not be in the business of doing harm to people. Such a view is extreme.

One must always remember that good people sometimes have to do 'bad' things to protect the good. And those actions, while being bad, may often be just none-the-less because of this fact.

I think one of the great things about justice is that it's not simple, not easy to pin down, but very often we can look at an action that violates law and clearly see that it was just. And we need to remember that.

Ahhh...the never-ending debate of the meaning of justice. Fun fun fun...
Where is the justice? I have read somebody’s post, “There is no doubt” that he committed these murders. I would like to revisit this point. The only case the government made against Mr. Williams was the testimony of convicted felons who all cut a deal for their testimony.

So, where is the justice? You are correct when you speak of a “process of appeals that borders on obscene.” It is obscene to see a justice system not reopen a case when new evidence is provided.
Its fun when your star witness saves his neck to point the finger at someone else, or when you plant a cop in the cell next to him so he can testify that Tookie admitted to him that he killed the victims. What about the EVIDENCE - the fingerprints at the scene that weren’t his, or the boot print that wasn’t his, or the shotgun that was registered to him but was found under the bed of a Bonnie and Clyde wannabe couple that was wanted for murder at the time?

I know I’m not saying anything you don’t already know. In this great justice system we have here we have never convicted an innocent man, no never, not in the USA. The reason for his redemption was because he helped promote the violence that was and is the Crips. You and Arnold believe he should apologize for killings that he didn’t commit; that’s ludicrous.

You also say that “Williams was convicted by a jury of his peers.” This is again inaccurate. His jury consisted of one Latino, one Filipino and 10 whites. They may be your peers, but I’m quite sure they are not his.
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