The Necessity of Equal Justice

The Modern Survival Guide #114

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The Core Problems of Disproportionate Punishment

To properly understand the nastiness of this issue, we have to look at it in terms of not just individual tragedies, but also in terms of social consequences. There are three big problems that emerge from systems of disproportionate punishment.² These are as follows.

Inequitable Justice is Bad for Democracy

One of the big selling points of democracy (any democracy, all democracies) is that when you don’t like the way things are, there is a legal way to change them. This is called “voting,” and the main point of voting is that we don’t have to revolt. Voting is a way to make society change without violence. But it relies on trust in the system, it relies on responsiveness from the system, and with just a little bit of corruption it can be twisted so that votes don’t matter.

The Correction: Equitable Justice

This stuff isn’t easy. It’s a vast web of interconnected policies and structures in our society. There are no silver bullets, there is no “end of history,” there is no point where we get to rest on our laurels and say that we live in a perfectly equitable society with a perfectly proportional justice system. That’s not how people are. People are messy, and there’s always some evil bastard out there trying to tear down society for their own profit. Whatever we do to try to fix this will take years and years of focused work.

  • Pass laws to better regulate our criminal justice system and require equal standards of punishment
  • Remove mandatory prison time requirements, e.g. “3 strike” laws, and maybe even try our hand at rehabilitation as a primary goal for once
  • Remove judges who do not equitably implement the law in sentencing
  • Pass laws to better regulate state-sanctioned use of force by the police
  • Implement policies to better define when it is appropriate to use different levels of force
  • Enforce those laws and policies by routinely prosecuting police who use unnecessary force
  • Improve monitoring of police actions by independent auditors
  • Break police unions’ grip on the application of discipline, which will probably mean breaking a lot of police unions (and I’m pretty pro-union guy in general, so you know this is a big deal for me)
  • Implement policies to remove bad cops, and ensure they cannot be re-hired
  • Increase police pay, but decrease police spending on military-grade equipment⁸
  • Fund community services and mental health so that we don’t have to ask the police to do things unrelated to law enforcement
  • Require more and better training in conflict de-escalation and use of nonlethal force by officers
  • Require more and better training that emphasizes using lethal force as an absolute last resort
  • Require more and better training that emphasizes that police are public servants
  • Increase use of community policing models
  • Require increased police accountability through evidence logging and body-cam footage
  • Remove stop-and-frisk policies
  • Remove unwarranted asset seizure authority
  • Reform police union contracts
  • Remove qualified immunity
  • Improve data collection and public access to data on police actions
  • End the “war on drugs”

What Can We Do?

So all this comes back to us as individuals. Remember when I said we can’t look away? This is it. This is us. What can we do? How can we help? How can we act to preserve our democracy and the rights of our fellow citizens?

  • Protest. The national dialogue hinges on protests. They make the news and cause a ruckus. They influence political capital and set the tone of the day. You have a right to peaceably assemble; use it. If your right to peaceably assemble is violated, use that too. The more attention, the better.
  • VOTE. Democracy isn’t dead yet. Vote for politicians who will make the changes we need — especially at the local level. Congressional action is necessary, but a lot of the reform we need rests at the city council level.
  • Speak out. Let the world know what you think. Our culture is a big piece of this issue, and “culture” is what we expect to happen today and tomorrow combined with what we think everyone believes. We influence the culture by influencing the national dialogue, and that means speaking up. Make it known that you support a fair justice system. Write your city or town council members. Write your congressman. Put an op-ed in the local paper. Post on social media. We have the loudest microphones ever permitted to the common citizenry in human history, so let your voice be heard.

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Searching for truth in a world focused on belief.

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