Where Is Justice?

Mort Morford


© Copyright 2023 by Mort Morford

Photo by Kindel Media at Pexels.
 Photo by Kindel Media at Pexels.

Several years ago I was on a jury.

The case was straight forward; a registered sex-offender had failed to register his change of address.

He was a slumped-over, shallow husk of a man.

He had been abused and neglected as a child and, through-out his whole life had been the victim of adults, impulses and, later, the legal system.

I was just another cog in the system that seemed to keep squelching what little humanity he had left in him.

Our duty as jurors was to consider the evidence regarding this situation. He was clearly guilty.

Yet what did our guilty verdict accomplish?

At best, it just confirmed what he, and everyone else already knew; he was a living, breathing reject: as unwanted and unwelcome at home as he was in public or in potential places of employment.

But what would justice look like? Where would justice be found?

We did our civic duty, but just pushed him further on his grim journey and cemented, again, his rapidly declining value and possible contribution to society.

This man, a cipher, even in his own eyes, carried the inevitability of his own destruction embedded in his bones.

He was the ultimate living example of “more sinned against than sinning”.

He had absorbed more abuse than most of us could bear to hear about, and yet he blundered on – and, once again, held captive and publicly shamed on a legal technicality.

Did our guilty verdict anything except confirmation of what he, and everyone knew, or at least thought they knew, of this man?

No one from the community appeared to speak in his defense.

Even his court appointed lawyer had nothing to say except a plea for a lighter sentence.

I never spoke to him. Or even heard his voice.

He sat silent in the courtroom, knowing that there was, and apparently would always and only be, one verdict – guilty. Unwanted. Beyond redemption. Long past forgiveness.

And yet how could this be?

Weren’t we, at some level, however shallow and ineffectual, a “Christian” nation, or even, in a purely secular sense, a culture that believed in justice, redemption and restoration.

I didn’t know anything of his parents or his childhood, or where he worked or went to school, but surely someone in his cast of characters surrounding his life considered him a friend or neighbor, surely someone treated him with kindness and recognition and respect.

There must have been someone who didn’t abuse, mock and betray him.

But what would justice look like?

Human justice was just another slap, insult and “brick in the wall”.

But what of anything like eternal justice?

Some religions point to a paradise where we are united with loved ones – with family and friends.

But what of a lost soul like this, who was betrayed, abused and assaulted by those who should have loved him?

Who would he meet in eternity? Who would he want to meet? Who would be eager to meet him?

Would he see those who tormented him and made his life miserable?

Would he be obligated, or even inclined to forgive them?

Would they ask for his forgiveness? Have they been waiting for it?

Or is eternal hell the only place for them? And him?

Is even more pain, shame and suffering this poor man’s destiny – even on an eternal scale?

I’d like to believe in redemption, in, as the song “Amazing Grace” puts it, every “wretch” would be “found” and restored.

But this man was like a black hole, sucking like a cosmic vacuum, every good and light thing of the world into eternal darkness and emptiness.

Man’s inhumanity to man is no abstraction to people like this, there is no “survival of the fittest” – there is just the brutish “survival” of those who feed upon the weaknesses of others, and those victims, like him, scarred and numbed forever, never finding a friendly face or a healing glance or word.

Like every abuser perhaps, he had been abused and felt the compulsion to continue the abuse. He was guilty and ashamed, and labeled for life. But somehow he was, or could be, or might have been something more; a human being with gifts and visions to share.

He was created to walk upon the earth free and full of delight and joys to be shared. Surely someone in his childhood saw him and liked what they saw. Can any one of us go through life without someone appreciating who we are?

The world is full of victims. Most of them nameless hulks that fill our streets and prisons. Few of us know their names. And most of us don’t want to.

But each one of those addicts and homeless wanderers had parents and home and school mates and neighbors.

But somehow they were emptied and broken and were blurred beyond our recognition, and, once in a while an individual, like this man emerges in a courtroom or headline.

And what can they tell us in their mute testimony?

We love stories of courage and success in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But we don’t love to hear stories of those crushed by overwhelming forces.

We don’t want to hear stories of victims defeated and emptied.

In a world, or at least a culture, obsessed with youth and beauty and success, here was its opposite; a still-breathing human that no one wanted, no one claimed and no one defended.

There was no victory in our verdict, no sense that “justice was served”.

The legal system, in this case, was like a factory assembly-line with “Next” as the calling card to the next trial, the next case, the next set of pathetic and befuddled defendants – with little or no “defense” for their actions or who they had become. Or even who their lawyers represented them to be.

I’ve always wanted to see, and believe in, the good in people - in what Abraham Lincoln called our “better angels”.

In a situation like this, there is no “good” outcome – no one looks good, no one is glad or proud of the part they played.


A year or two later, I am writing this in the aftermath of yet another conflict-related injury between my grandchildren.

My 4-year-old grandson hit his brother, my 10-year-old grandson in the eye – necessitating a trip to the emergency room and a local children’s hospital.

They were literally in the doorway, packed to go home, when a possible life-time eye-injury, thanks to a toy swung wildly, emerged out of nowhere.

The 10-year-old exaggerates and fakes injury continually so we never know if he is truly injured or howling for effect.

In this case he was actually injured.

Sibling rivalry, often to the point of murder and self-destruction is as old as human history.

From Cain and Able to Jacob and Esau to the “Sons of Thunder”, the Bible, if not every scripture and set of mythologies, is dense with fraternal conflict. And sisters can be just hurtful.

But, as in the jury situation, where is justice? What would justice look like?

What would restoration and any kind of healing look like?

How is anything positive accomplished?

In neither case can we just go on as if nothing happened. And we cannot go back and “fix” anything.

We keep going in our lives, injured, categorized, broken, imprisoned and labeled for life.

Freedom is as illusory as ever. Burdens, fears and wounds are as real as they ever were.

We could offer solace to each other.

Or even to ourselves.

If we could only let go of the resentments, the what-ifs, the lingering feuds and assumptions.

But if you know anything of human history, you know how unlikely that is.

History, national or personal, shows us that resentments and distrust are almost hard-wired into the human psyche.

In short, we need an intervention.

Again, a glance at human history shows that every generation or so we have a prophet that shows us another, better way. They do their best to convince us that we are not bound to a life of injury, revenge and resentment.

And we also know that few of those prophets live long.

We don’t want to hear their message.

Conflict, distrust and violence have become familiar, even our home.

Even the suggestion of reconciliation is a threat.

Striking out like toddlers in a tantrum has become our modus operandi, our operating principle from households to national boundaries. The ability to “strike first” has become not only our personal “right” but our compelling national policy – and the bulk of our budget.

Peace might be the foundation of any continuing culture and civilization, but war keeps the adrenaline going. And the promise of conquest is a never-dimming vision for autocrats and dictators (and abusers) of all eras.

The 20th Century was essentially defined by the continuing convergence of two opposing forces; our love for progress and our determination to annihilate ourselves.

For the first time in human history (presumably) we had the means to destroy all of human history – and, of course, the possibility of bringing safety and security to the bulk of humanity.

No one would say we prevailed, but we did make it out of the 20th Century, even though we now have challenges few of us could have imagined back then. From intense weather formations to plastic (or other chemical) pervasiveness (from the environment to our blood stream) human-created (or at least human facilitated) life-threatening hazards are everywhere.

But so is the promise of healing and reconciliation.

There is nothing inevitable about self-destruction. From empires to drug addicts or criminals, we humans need to believe that there is another way, a way, that defies all odds, and circumstances, a way that is open to all, even those the rest of us have given up on.

Even those who have given up on themselves.

What does justice look like? It looks like not giving up.

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