Brief Thoughts on Justice

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To seek justice in any meaningful sense, we must seek to hold the guilty accountable for their actions and to restore that which was lost or injured. In cases involving violence, we cannot have justice.

Convicting a person of murder or rape or another violent crime holds that person accountable. But it does not return the dead to life or restore a person’s sense of safety or self-worth. A conviction alone is half-justice, and society is often lucky to see even that — especially when dealing with the police.

But maybe we can take some solace in the fact that a person was held accountable for a crime. We can find comfort in knowing the legal system worked as we believe it should. The primary (and possibly only) determining factor in such a decision may lie in whether the punishment fits the crime. Do we take solace when a convicted murderer receives a decades-long sentence? Do we take solace when a rapist receives minimal jail time despite a conviction?

The death penalty complicates this matter. Revenge is not justice, and the death penalty is revenge — whether carried out by the state or a vengeful vigilante. Restoration cannot happen through violence, for violence only ever destroys. And the death penalty is an absolute punishment that cannot be revoked or reversed. When we give in to the siren call of vengeance, we lessen our humanity by declaring that violence for violence is a form of justice.

Justice does not come easy, if it ever comes at all. But a half-measure of honest justice will always be better than no justice at all.