On Justice

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI confess, I wasn’t going to try a second essay.  I needed so much help with my first effort, I didn’t feel it was worth the goodhearted commentary and support it engendered.  But often, good comments save a halfbaked effort of composition, so here goes!

We have just experienced (and are still experiencing) what amounts to the latest in a series of show trials.  I call show trials those that have the status of the classical ones – Socrates vs. Athens, Jesus vs. Pontius Pilate, all of history’s confrontations between government and an individual, in which the purpose has been quite clearly something other than a demonstration of justice.  And now we’ve had the trial of George Zimmerman, which on other excellent forums has been described as an orchestration of similar nature.

I can’t possibly undertake a legal explanation of this or any other trial.  I am not a lawyer. However, positioning ourselves above the fray for a moment, I believe it is important to reflect upon what this trial and others presently ongoing in the public eye or out of it, and potential trials to come, say about us and about our present government.

The place to begin, I believe is with the following conversation between Tim De Christopher and Bill Moyers:

http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-going-to-jail-for-justice/

And really, the importance of this conversation (which starts partway into the actual video) is right there in the first exchange:

BILL MOYERS: So when did you know for sure that you were going to be convicted?

TIM DECHRISTOPHER: During the jury selection of the trial. That was what really did it. There was a moment during the jury selection – we had this huge jury pool because it was a high profile case. And there was a moment where the prosecution and the judge found out that most of that jury pool had gotten a pamphlet before they came in on the first day from the Fully Informed Jurors Association. And it was a pamphlet that didn’t say anything about my case, but it talked about jury’s rights. It talked about why we have juries. And it, you know, quoted the founders of the country on juries being the conscience of the community. And the prosecution flipped out over this. It was the only time I saw the prosecutor completely lose his cool during the whole process. And we went into the judge’s chambers and the prosecutor was screaming and saying, “We should have a mistrial here.” And wanted to just throw the whole thing out.

*******************

There are three layers of justice in every trial – the layer imposed upon the community by the state: to keep order, to stay in power, to prolong empire, or, in a not-very-often-happening to provide for the common good.  The second layer is that of the conscience of the law enacter – the judge, or in the cases we’re looking at, the jury.  Then there’s the third layer – we, the people – how we assimilate the teachings of a trial, how we think and speak about it, how we react.  That third layer is very, very important.

As I said above, we the people of the United States of America  have more trials upcoming and ongoing in the pipeline.  It may very well be that this is the declining moment of the great American US of A empire – because show trials, it does seem to me, occur during last stages of empire, historically speaking.  They are a last ditch effort to maintain order, which in the case of empire means to manipulate public opinion in the favor of those who rule.

It doesn’t always turn out that way.  In fact, I would argue, it never turns out that way.

And that’s justice.

Please do take this as an opening comment and feel free to give your own take on how things are and how they might turn out.  I look forward to the conversation!

24 responses to “On Justice

  1. Thank you very much, wendye, for embedding the photograph for me.

  2. so welcome, and thank you for posting, juliania. and no, you weren’t a bother last time. i was grateful to be prodded to learn how to format poetry, but i’ve forgotten already, but know that i can find out how again when the need arises, lol.

    the three layers: i’m not sure i’m understanding those, but the second layer about consciences, in which you include.’ law enacters’, judges and jurors: do you mean those who write and pass the laws as well? or just the judge and jurors (hopefully) acting with conscience and seeking to uphold the spirit of the law? i read part of a transcript of the judge in the Z trial goin’ a bit crazy during the time when she questioned him as to his choice not to testify, and there seemed to be no indication that any conscience was at play. but that may be extraneous to this post. if so, sorry.

    yes, what we the people take away is big: and i fear that those of us who were forced to conclude that the jury had to acquit given the scant hard evidence that ballasted the prosecution’s charges and narratives are in the vast minority at fdl and my.fdl.

    the other show trials aren’t even covered by the MSM, and are little more than banana republic secret tribunals, no evidence in defense that might be claimed as ‘risks to our national security’. they got that part right: THEIR security, not ours. as edward snowden is a risk to THEIR security.

    funny, but i clipped a lot of that moyers interview transcript into a word doc, plus the lyrics to ‘higher ground’ in aid of a post i have tabled innumerable times. it was the ‘one finger backed by other fingers in velvet revolution’ and the need for kinship with others, which fits this present case well, imo. how will any of the dissenters to the verdict move forward now in solidarity, and erasing the odious SYG laws and protest the many ways that people of color are being marginalized? and again: can they not see that we are becoming they by leaps and bounds by now?

  3. Tim’s too polite.

    Tim DeChristopher was also prohibited from showing at his trial, that the auction that he stopped, was illegal. It was voided completely, and not proceeded with even after his bids. It was a completely illegal auction.

    In addition, I think he was prohibited from showing that he was going to be able to raise the money to pay the bid.

    In addition, after conviction, he, a model prisoner, was put in solitary, on the orders that came from some congressman. Someone who had nothing to do with the penal system I believe. After a fuss was raised, he was transferred back.

    In addition, the perpetrators of the illegal auction suffered no consequences. That would be Obama’s patrons in the oil and gas industry.

    He was most definitely a victim of a show trial. He messed with big oil. Can not do that.

  4. Thanks for commenting, wendy – I was very simpleminded about those three layers, and had excluded the writers of laws in my mind – maybe just bearing in mind that a bad law could theoretically be abolished by a good judge setting precedent – we haven’t seen much of that happening, but if juries can do it, why not judges? And I think you are correct, a fourth layer would be that of the writers of the laws, and maybe a fifth for an independent press.

    I’ll grant that there are huge problems as you point out with the secret tribunals and the huge emphasis on governmental suppression of information – again, I hadn’t thought of that falling into the ‘show trial’ category, but it certainly demonstrates something, doesn’t it? Thank you for reminding us of that. I had in mind the Boston bombing case – E. F. Beall had a diary at fdl that describes the condition of the defendant in that one which is just searingly awful to contemplate. Also the ongoing Bradley Manning case that Kevin is covering so well, and finally if it ever comes to it, Edward Snowden. I put the Zimmerman case in that category because of all the attention it is getting.

    The Moyers interview, at the time I saw it, reminded me of what Naomi Klein said at the end of ‘The Shock Doctrine’ that repressive tactics don’t work so well when the public becomes aware through experience that they are going on. I felt that particularly true in the case of jury trials, that this golden opportunity to influence the course of justice should not be misunderstood – that’s why we have jury trials after all, for that people power to be effective.

    And on your point that the advocates of this approach have been few in number on conversational threads – I’d just say that yes, maybe so, but to a reader, which mostly I am these days, those few arguments make their points so well that they are almost all that is needed.

  5. Yes, mafr, I agree. All those things did happen. It is mindboggling still to think we have a court system that is really ‘out to get us’ as they say. We have all had such faith in this system. It is automatic to trust, against all the obvious ‘tells’ that this is so. It is even now hard to believe the aggressive posture of the administration in pursuing Snowden, with no apparent care what the world at large will think. It’s a jungle out there.

    All the same, I am remembering the Kennedy strategy at least as I understood it from the Cuban missile crisis. And that was to take, in dark times, the honorable course – to assume good intentions in a conflicted state of messaging when the alternative is so very bleak. There are still some good judges. There are still brave whistleblowers. And most people are not, or think they are not (which does count), either bigots or psychopaths, even though most people are flawed. I expect Tim De Christopher is a flawed individual, but he most certainly brightens my day. And his example sets the stage for his generation as the machinations against him do not.

  6. Forgive me, I cannot resist posting this excerpt from the ‘Apology’ of Socrates, which is his statements in his own defense before the court as given to us in the writings of his student, Plato.

    Those accusing Socrates are inaudible in the text, and there is a first part, his defense of himself, and then a second where he responds to being found guilty before sentence is passed. This is from that section:

    “…I have never lived an ordinary quiet life. I did not care for the things that most people care about – making money, having a comfortable home, high military or civil rank, and all the other activities, political appointments, secret societies, party organizations, which go on in our city. I thought that I was really too strict in my principles to survive if I went in for this sort of thing. So instead of taking a course which would have done no good either to you or to me, I set myself to do you individually in private what I hold to be the greatest possible service. I tried to persuade each one of you not to think more of practical advantages than of his mental and moral well-being in the case of the state or of anything else. What do I deserve for behaving in this way? Some reward, gentlemen, if I am bound to suggest what I really deserve, and what is more, a reward which would be appropriate for myself. Well, what is appropriate for a poor man who is a public benefactor and who requires leisure for giving you moral encouragement? Nothing could be more appropriate for such a person than free maintenance at the state’s expense. He deserves it much more than any victor at the races at Olympia, whether he wins with a single horse or a pair or a team of four. These people give you the semblance of success, but I give you the reality; they do not need maintenance, but I do. So if I am to suggest an appropriate penalty which is strictly in accordance with justice, I suggest free maintenance by the state…” [Hugh Tredennick, translator]

  7. to your point about judges banning bad laws, i really dunno how far that goes, or exactly how citations and precedents work. but i often think that what a law says isn’t exactly the whole of it: the law is what a judge says it is. or scotus, in the end (and lately, often a sad end). setting aside verdicts: is that usually reserved for civil trials? kinda embarrassing i don’t remember.

    but you reminded me of one of naomi *wolf’s* contentions in aid of her calling edward snowden a plant, or close…that he was acting in aid of people knowing how far they are being surveilled, thus creating an even larger fear of the security apparatus. not so: very scant of it was ever documented so entirely, so her point fails, imo. (i prefer what you say about naomi klein’s take on oppression, though) now? it could be game-changing in terms of US stature in the world. domestically? whoosh; i hope so, but… well, we’ll see what comes next in therms of revelations. all greenwald has said is that more will be up soon concerning the extent of spying in latin america.

    as to the last, i’d just seen thd say that the prosecution likely tanked their presentation on purpose, and i find that highly dubious myself. i was just dismayed by how many people just made stuff up, or took the msm line all the way, i guess.

    oh, and it seems that states are now making some of the most heinous laws now, ALEC stuff that is seriously punishing to people’s lives.

    it’s been a million years since i read the ‘apology’, and had utterly forgotten plato’s plug for a guaranteed annual income for moral leaders (and teachers, i reckon). ;-)

  8. realitychecker1

    I surely do miss Socrates, darling juliania. I have tried my humble best in life to emulate his example, but, even all these centuries later, pursuit of that mission remains singularly unrewarding lol. [ ] As to the meat of your post, I must say, from my position of relative expertise and high life investment in the legal system, that it is a huge institutional structure that aspired to high principles and ideals of fairness at some point and at some levels, but has now been thoroughly corrupted, undermined, and hijacked for base purposes to a degree that the layman cannot even begin to appreciate (because the devil really is in all the details, and the details of the details, etc., etc.). In essence, with all that corruption now hard-wired in, all trials are now show trials. It seems to me that rebellion is invited in when honest jurisprudence absents itself.

  9. Thanks to you both very much!

    “…with all that corruption now hard-wired in, all trials are now show trials…”

    Well said, rc, and indeed that ‘hardwired in’ aspect is what the world is now facing – as per tomdispatch’s latest that I was just reading:

    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/07/16-4

    When things are hardwired in, apparently there’s no need for subterfuge any longer – at least with respect to global intimidation. So, I’ll throw this into the mix: Is the difference between the American Revolution and the French Revolution that in the latter case repressive things were hardwired in? Is hardwiring what leads inevitably to civil war, or is there any way to avoid the bloodbath?

    I am thinking of our crammed full and crowded prison system. The French began, and admittedly pushed much further down the road of penury than we so far, by storming the Bastille. Occupy attempted to storm our modern day equivalent, Wall Street. They didn’t succeed, but perhaps they did the equivalent of Les Miserables, whom you might recall Victor Hugo wrote about as the precursors to the French Revolution.

    Hasn’t Edward Snowden in their wake caused global shifts? I mean, even a minor thing like people deserting Google – I was seeing that posited at nakedcapitalism.org by some commenters there as the beginning of a stockmarket teeter as the sands shift. (Of course, I know about as much about economics as I do about the law – so glad we have your expertise here, rc!)

    Here is a crazily unstable juxtaposition to wrap one’s mind around: that megastructure of polished black marble and glass filled with expensive to run thousands of computers humming interminably so as to contain all possible data collected from all possible human sources eternally…. while the millions of minions must spy on one another to report suspicious activity.

    If big brother is watching everything and everybody, why do the millions of minions need to spy? Not quite the polished edifice it purports to be, I’d say. Old fashioned snitching still needed.

    There’s something comforting about that.

    • realitychecker1

      Yes, yes, hooray for snitching./s Also, yes to your surmise that all these revelations have the potential to shift the fortunes of many established market leaders.

  10. You know me, rc – always looking for the rainbow behind the dark cloud.

  11. At this stage in my thinking, it seems appropriate to harken back even before the trial of Socrates, to the first triad of plays I have in my little series of paperbacks from college days – the Oresteia by Aeschylus.

    In the first play, Agamemnon, a general is returning triumphant after years away at war and is murdered by his wife and her lover. In the second, Orestes, his son, returns from abroad, meets his grieving sister, Electra, and with her help murders his mother and her lover. In the third and final play, Orestes is pursued by the Eumenides or Furies, because his crime of matricide is a crime against his own blood and must be avenged by them notwithstanding the mother’s guilt. Everyone arrives in Athens and a trial ensues. The votes are even on each side.

    Athena intervenes, the voice of reason and persuasion:

    “It is my task to render final judgment here.
    This is the ballot for Orestes I shall cast.
    There is no mother anywhere who gave me birth,
    And, but for marriage, I am always for the male
    With all my heart and strongly on my father’s side.”

    Defeated, the Furies threaten their inevitable curse, calling on earth and night to hear. “They have wiped me out…” But all is not lost for them, who till now have been primitive gods, homeless wanderers themselves. Here is what Athena says to them:

    “I will not weary of telling you all the good things
    I offer, so that you can never say that you,
    An elder god, were driven unfriended from the land
    by me in my youth, and by my mortal citizens.
    But if you hold Persuasion has her sacred place
    Of worship, in the sweet beguilement of my voice,
    Then you might stay with us. But if you wish to stay
    Then it would not be justice to inflict your rage
    Upon this city, your resentment or bad luck
    To armies. Yours the baron’s portion in this land
    If you will, in all justice, with full privilege.”

    Indeed, the Furies do wish to stay. We have them with us still.

  12. the tom englehardt piece was magnificent, juliania. it had a different title at fdl, but i think i’ve seen that before (not that i understand it).

    ‘the totalitarian beast slouching toward washington’, so many other gems.

    but hey, athena! you’re part of patriarchal rule, too, eh? your voice still echoes!

    (loved it, and ya took me right back to CU boulder, old dark wooden desks and all. i can see the prof’s face, even. i was shocked to hear her pronounce all their names; boy, did i have them wrong in my mind.)

    kinda like thinking: Yoss Might Same (for yosemite sam). ;~)

    i’d had further thoughts about ‘judges’, too, but i’m burning out on words for now, and we’ve shifted directions a bit.

  13. Yes, Athena’s not matriarchal but she IS female – an interesting twist on patriarchy. I always think of her when you call on the Goddess, but also Aeschylus calls the play ‘The Eumenides’ and it is all about them, admittedly not their best side being presented though they are given their due at the end. Matriarchy also being a fundamental lifeforce, always requiring acknowledgement, even if power seems to be in the hands of the generals.

    And speaking of drowning something in a bathtub, here’s a warning: generals in bathtubs become vulnerable to their estranged and embittered wives.

    Mighty powerful plays, these.

  14. Further, yes, shifting directions, but maybe our own style of circling that phoenix named ‘justice’ which has taken so many chimerical forms over the course of history. Your reference to the Tom Englehardt piece, wendye, has taken me right back to Plato again and the magnificence of his dialogue ‘The Republic’ which most certainly ought to be mentioned on a post on justice since that is the subject of that marathon. Tyranny takes many forms but ‘might is right’ sums it up pretty well, then and now.

    I was so fortunate to come to these texts not at desks facing a professor but at tables, big ones, around which we all sat in egalitarian smoke clouds. I thank heaven also that addictive chemicals weren’t then part of the mix or I’d be a smoker today.

  15. i was just havin’ a bit of fun at athena’s expense, since she’d said:
    “And, but for marriage, I am always for the male
    With all my heart and strongly on my father’s side.”

    my own mum mirrored that; in any squabble between mr. wd and me, she’d reflexively take his side. ;-)

    ‘might is right’ and ‘history belongs to the victor’. i really don’t remember the republic at all; your memory awes me.

    i’d given up reading rebeca solnit’s pieces at tomdispatch since she began urging lote-voting for obomba, but the one she has up now at my.fdl is exquisite.

  16. I got that, wendye – but also you were correct.

    And by the way, nobody can remember the Republic, even if you only just finished reading it! It is a tremendous tour de force and all the way through Socrates is testing his young disciples to see if they still remember the points he has been making – talk about fractals, this is it. So the only thing one can say is it’s about justice, or at least, that’s the starting and ending points, though if they are identical as in the horse race that’s going on at the same time in honor of a new Thracian goddess (and what might that have to do with the price of tea in China, one might ask) is the subject of wonderful conversations in smokefilled rooms of ancient days.

    But no, might doesn’t make right and history really doesn’t belong to the victor, eh? Because, the ancient journalists who thought that was so, where are they? Here is Plato, and he’s as alive as you and me.

    And that is JUST as it should be.

  17. “…And thus, Glaucon, a tale was saved and not lost; and it could save us, if we were persuaded by it, and we shall make a good crossing of the river of Lethe [forgetfulness] and not defile our soul. But if we are persuaded by me, holding that soul is immortal and capable of bearing all evils and all goods, we shall always keep to the upper road and practice justice with prudence in every way so that we shall be friends to ourselves and the gods, both while we remain here and when we reap the rewards for it like the victors who go about gathering the prizes. And so here and in the thousand year journey that we have described, we shall fare well.” [Allan Bloom translation]

  18. “But no, might doesn’t make right and history really doesn’t belong to the victor, eh?” Well, that depends, imo. When masses of peasants have stood up for revolutions, collective small mights equally a mighty force. In the case of the Bolivarian Revolutions, for instance, I, like many others were slow to know what they were about, since The Victors propagandized them so totally, and still are. For instance, Samantha Power in her confirmation hearing naming Venezuela and three other nations as ‘oppressors of civil society’.

    But i love this that he’d said to glaucon, thank you. i guess even those of us who aren’t believes could ascribe to the high road point of view *for itself*, in that it can cause us to be more ready to die when our times come, in that we stood up for what we deemed right and true, or as close as we were able to reckon it.

    happy sunday, juliania. i’m heading out to the garden, where in spite of everything, many of the plants are thriving and lush.

  19. We are both correct, wendye, and a happy Sunday to you. The ‘might’ you describe as being formed by the power of the people is far different from mindless force wishing to have its own way – the people have honor and justice on their side and that is what gives them the power when they unite to use it. And I will offer to you that much as religion is decried as the opiate of the masses, what religion does is focus moral behavior in ways that real and present needs don’t on their own do. The combination is strength and not just who has the biggest guns.

    I have a small rebellion to report on – I’ll put the link up on your ‘Tough Questions’ thread.

  20. On the subject, again, of ‘The Republic’ – this morning I came across the following excellent quote in comments at nakedcapitalism.com:

    “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
    [Milan Kundera in ‘The Book of Laughter and Forgetting’]

  21. yes, religion can focus moral behavior, but past that, can i take a pass except to say that i do wish more churches were taking part in more activities and protests against the many wrongs being done to us. other than that, it’s far too large a subject over too many centuries to comment well about. but i like the kundera quote; i never read that title of his. and since i feel a bit guilty about not weighing in further on your contentions about religion, i went and fetched a Dostoyevsky quote you must know and like. the commenter said it was from ‘The House of the Dead’; i know i didn’t read it.

    ““The human being and the citizen perish forever in the tyrant, and a return to human dignity, to repentance, to regeneration becomes practically impossible for him. What is more, the example, the possibility of such intransigence have a contagious effect upon the whole of society: such power is a temptation. A society which can look upon such a phenomenon with indifference is already contaminated to its foundations. Put briefly, the right given to one man to administer corporal punishment to another is one of society’s running sores, one of the most effective means of destroying in it every attempt at, every embryo of civic consciousness, and a basic factor in its certain and inexorable dissolution.”

    i really had meant to fetch in while answering you on the ‘more dead children’ post, but i was listening to the house amash amendment vote, and got distracted.

    crap: The Amash-Conyers amendment is narrowly defeated, 205-217. very narrow, but at least a step in the right direction, theatrics and all.

  22. Given the pressures we know tyrannical rules bring to bear – and you just beat me to capsulization of that thought, though we may have been simultaneously bringing it to birth (see your ‘more dead children’ post) that many yes votes for the amendment is a step – how huge it would have been had there been more brave people. I tend not to believe it was kabuki, since Democratic votes against the ptb-in-chief (I don’t say the ‘p’ word any longer) can by no means be considered other than snowdenempowered.

    Churches, unhappily, are conformist. It wasn’t churches Dostoievski wrote about, even though he has wonderful monastic characters in his novels. It was people. And that would be stemming from when he himself went to the Houses of the Dead but was helped at the last way station by the wives of the Decembrists – exiled for demonstrating peacefully against tsarist repression. The wives lived in the last little village before the prison camps and any that headed thataway was given parcels of food, Bibles, a friendly word.

    The church didn’t help him; the people did. We don’t really need the churches, though representatives like Martin Luther King or Desmond Tutu are much to be admired.

  23. thank you for the Decembrists reminder; the black panthers did much the same, and ows, as well. very well done, very brilliant and supportive ways to create community bonds. ah, my remark about the churches waws by way of my disappointment when i saw the next tipping point for massive resistance being dave degraw and the ministers ginning up for revolt. instead, the ministers went back to their congregations to get out the vote for…obomba. the churches were just so key to the civil rights movement, it seems that i’m having trouble letting go of history.

    your remark about churches being conformist reminds me of a thomas aquinas one that MLK tweaked a bit. i’d tucked it away, but can’t find it now, no matter…

    i can see why some do think the vote was theater, but in some ways i disagree as well. the notion that i tire of at fdl is that libertarians can’t sincerely care about civil liberties, whose ranks include: glennzilla, edward snowden, and justin amash. but nanci pelosi and michelle bachman doin’ the pro-nsa cha-cha together was as delightful as it gets!

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