Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On Life, Liberty and Justice

Three weighty issues to be sure, and I don't pretend to think that I can properly talk about them, but here it goes.

This week, a death row inmate from North Carolina was released after it was discovered that he had inadequate defense, the third in the state in the last six months (Story Here). What the article basically boils down to is that poor people are more likely to receive incompetent legal help than those who have money, but this should be a no brainer, right? Now, I'm not saying that all pro bono lawyers are incompetent, or that every poor person is charged of crimes unfairly, I am just saying that justice cannot exist in a society in which services that are essential to existing in a society are provided in a free-market.

"Knowledge is power," this axiomatic statement is no truer than when it is applied to the law. In this equation, in our late capitalistic society, "money is power" as well, thus, "money is knowledge" insofar as you can afford the schooling to gain the knowledge yourself or so that you can hire someone to know things for you. The realm of the knowledge of law is one that is denied to poor people, and this is part of the matrices of power that keep poor people poor and in jail. Anyone who says that justice can exist in a free-market is simply uniformed, because those who have money can get out of (practically) everything. We see this everyday, but people don't want to do anything about it, and it makes me so mad. Legal help should be something that is guaranteed to all people, and it should be equal.

And of course, I feel the same way about health care; health care in a free-market economy basically says "your life is only worth as much as you can pay." Life and liberty are things that are supposed to be an integral part of American identity, why then is it denied to so many people?

Of course, I realize that their are problems with universalizing health care and legal services, and that my ideals are Utopian, but I think that they are things we should strive for.

Now, moving on to the death penalty. I am staunchly against punishment by death because I don't feel it accomplishes much of anything. First of all, I think it would be worse to be confined to a cell for years, knowing you will be behind bars the rest of your life as opposed to just ending it. Second, if the person was innocent and you killed them, then you robbed them of their life. We need to get away from the "eye for an eye" mode of justice, and focus not only on personal rehabilitation but also on public rehabilitation. Like I said earlier, our justice system is a perpetual one, say a person messes up early in life and is convicted of a felony and is released later from prison. If they can't get a job because of their felony, then what are they going to do? More than likely turn to crime, because you have to eat somehow. Those who are convicted of crimes are otherized, one act becomes an identity and they are stigmatized for life. If someone has served their debt to society, then that should be it, we cannot continually keep punishing people for crimes they have already been punished for.

Obviously a lot of this blog is inspired by Angela Davis, who I had the privilege to see speak last February. One of the most inspiring things of her speech was how we need to not allow the punishment of one person to be a band-aid on a bigger social problem, we need to address the problem first and the individual second.

1 comment:

Kade and Caitlin said...

Regarding the healthcare issue, the US is the unofficial head of the UN whose constitution clearly states that every member state must provide the highest possible standard of living (as far as health goes) for its citizens. We spend more per person on healthcare than most (if not all) core nations in the world and cannot provide the uniform coverage that others have given to their citizens.

Crazy, crazy hyper-capitalist mindset we've got.