What is Justice?


I wrote about justice a few posts back, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Reader Frank Bishop posted a comment that I keep pondering, so I thought I’d tell you a story.

First, his comment was: What is justice?

So now, I have to figure it out, right? In that post, I explained that I think it’s wrong to write about injustice when our subject is supposed to be justice. So then, I was like, I need to write a post about justice. I don’t know how to start writing about justice… I know how to get to justice if I start with injustice, but how the heck do I start with justice?

Now I’m wondering if we even have the capacity to see justice without a foil for it. So… here’s a story that starts with injustice and ends with a scoash about what I think justice is.

I have a friend named Danny. Danny is cool because he’s married to my friend Lauren, plays video games, and is a cop. He’s cool for other reasons too, but those are the ones that you like him for without even knowing him that well. You also like him because he’s the daddy of Finnegan.

Way back before I knew Danny very well, I asked him if I could go on a ride-along, which means that I’d ride around in his cop car and be all observant towards his cop duties.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten most of what happened on my ride-along, but I’m going to try to recreate it for you anyways.

First, we Danny got a call to a house in a nice neighborhood. We got there to find that a family had arrived at the house to pick grandma up for church, but she wasn’t answering. They had an extra key to the house, but it was forty-five minutes across town, and they were too worried to leave for that long. The firefighters showed up and totally broke down the front door with an ax, then Danny pulled out his gun and searched the house, Jack Bauer style. He found grandma behind the toilet. She’d fallen back there in the middle of the night, and gotten stuck. She was disoriented and dehydrated, but okay.

Next, we Danny got a call to a nearby house where there was a domestic dispute. I stayed in the car for that one because there was a drunken man involved and it was safer. The wife kept apologizing for her husband’s drunkenness and saying that everything was okay… even though she was the one who initially called the police.

Then, we went on the interstate driving all fast after a guy who’d been pulled over with all sorts of drugs in his car. He fled the vehicle and was on foot being chased by bunches of cops. Danny and I babysat the drugs in case the guy came back.

Finally, we went to a skate park where a kid who was something like ten years old was sad and crying. He was an adorable kid, just perfectly like the kids I imagine myself having someday – big eyes, clean, attractive… (No I was not checking out the kid… but there are some people whose appearances you can’t help but admire). When Danny asked the kid what was going on, he tried to talk through gulps and sobs of, “A teenage boy asked… he said my bike was cool… I let him ride it…”

The kid’s friend explained to us that the teenager asked to ride the bike, then rode off with it; they chased the teen on foot, but lost him. 😦

Danny offered to get the kid an ice cream and reassured him that it wasn’t his fault. He could be more cautious about sharing his valuables, but the teenager shouldn’t have stolen from him. The kid was just about calmed down when his mom showed up and started yelling at him that, “I told you to take care of that bike! We’re supposed to go on vacation next week, but maybe we’ll have to stay here and search for the bike you lost. What do you think about that, huh? How could you be so irresponsible!”

Danny and I got back in the car and headed out in search of the teens, but we never found them.

Of course I can’t know exactly what justice is in each of those situations, but my heart cried out for the grandmother who just needed to pee in the middle of the night, the drunk’s wife who feels guilty for needing help, the unseen victims of the drug-dealer, and the kid whose bike was stolen.

To me, that day would have been exponentially better if I could have given that kid back his bike, forced the teenager to apologize and do five-hundred hours of community service, forced the mom to look at her crying son for sixty seconds without saying anything, made her wipe away his tears and upgraded the family vacation to a private week at Disneyland with only one mode of transportation allowed between rides… that’s right – cycling 🙂

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One thought on “What is Justice?

  1. Frank approved.

    /start being cryptic

    IMHO, justice is an abstraction. Something made of imagination and the heavenly stuff that can be felt, but not clearly seen or defined. Regardless of what you subscribe to, God, science, humanism, etc, it is something outside of our human grasp. Basically we can’t wrap out heads around it.

    We know it when we see it, we know it when we feel it, we even know it when it isn’t there, yet we can’t color in the lines.

    Is it justice to return the bike to a heart-broken boy, or to teach others not to steal, or to be removed from the idea of possessions and just share?

    /end being cryptic.

    I think Scientology has an interesting view on what is right and wrong, which leads to some interesting implications of justice.

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