With Justice for Some

Once upon a time, I made an effort to be a card-carrying Democrat. I joined my local legislative district group and attended meetings for a year or so. At the time, I was teaching non-verbal special education kids, so I was free to ignore the law that said I must start each day reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with my students. I’ve had a thing about the Pledge for a long time, so that worked for me.

However, my district Democratic meetings always began with the Pledge. I cringed, placed my hand on my heart, and mumbled my way through it. Then one evening, I heard the person next to me clearly conclude the Pledge with the words, “and justice for some.” This person had some sort of rank within the local hierarchy, so I was surprised. But it gave me hope that I wasn’t totally alone. From then on, I began to speak the Pledge, stay silent for “under god” and use the new ending.

Today, the summer of 2020, the world is at one with Black Lives Matter. I am a bit out of step with the world because I disagree with the assertion that policing is a racist enterprise, but I am whole heartedly on board with concerns about the criminal justice system as a whole. There are so many ways in which sex, race, and class mix it up to create potholes big enough for entire neighborhoods to fall into. 

If we set aside the specifics of the Michael Brown story in Ferguson, MO, it surely provided the impetus to expose ways in which the local justice system had been perverted. The city paid its bills by imposing fines that low income citizens were often unable to pay. This led to outstanding warrants that would turn up if a person was stopped by police for a broken taillight. Result: arrest, perhaps jail time, loss of a job, and, often, more unpaid fines and further outstanding warrants. This isn’t justice. Folks with money skate; folks without just go round and round.

Seattle used to have a corp of Community Service Officers. They were eliminated during budget cuts many years ago. Even before the current protests, plans were afoot to bring back this position. It’s a concept that fits into the demands of protesters who don’t want to see armed officers as the only option for calls for assistance. While I agree that some situations don’t need armed officers, I doubt that unarmed social workers are all we need. One friend from my old Democratic group, out of step in his own way, supported the death penalty which was unusual for a Democrat. His daughter, a social worker, had been killed by a client who took his frustration out on her. I’m not so naive as to think that all situations with people who are not in the act of committing a crime will end well.

I’m happy to see concern about our justice system get attention. I worry about issues that are getting lost in the cacophony, and I’m still nervous about how things will turn out this year.

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