As a nation, we have squandered our heritage and we have become perpetual victims in the process. Like a spoiled child holding his breath until he gets his way, we have stopped breathing.
This interesting piece from Salon entitled: The collapse of American justice adapted from the book “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice,” from Harvard University Press, includes the following are excerpts:
As drivers on our highways know well, American law often means something other than what it says. Roadside signs define the speed limit, or appear to do so: 65 or 70 miles per hour on well-built highways, 25 or 30 on local roads in residential areas, something in between for local highways and main roads in business districts. But drivers who take those signs seriously are in for a surprise: drive more slowly than the posted speed limit in light traffic and other drivers will race past, often with a few choice words or an upraised middle finger for a greeting. In the United States, posted limits don’t define the maximum speed of traffic; they define the minimum speed. So who or what determines the real speed limits, the velocity above which drivers risk traffic tickets or worse? The answer is: whatever police force patrols the relevant road. Law enforcers — state troopers and local cops — define the laws they enforce.
True – but, the officers in the trenches are “directed” by political leaders and elected politicians who determine “investigative priorities.” Washington has a tremendous influence on these local priorities by offering grant money (see http://www.justice.gov/business/ as an example), for which local communities become addicted.
The criminal justice system has run off the rails. The system dispenses not justice according to law, but the “justice” of official discretion. Discretionary justice too often amounts to discriminatory justice. And no stable regulating mechanism governs the frequency or harshness of criminal punishment, which has swung wildly from excessive lenity to even more excessive severity.
While I agree with the author’s premise that the criminal justice system has become derailed, my experience yields a somewhat different result. In my view, limited though it may be, “official discretion” is not responsible, at least as characterized by the author.
The promulgation of mandatory arrest laws and the dictation of crime policy by those far removed from the enforcement functions have eliminated or substantially curtailed the use of discretion by officers on the street and judges in the courtroom.
Look at the failure of minimum mandatory sentences to see what happens when discretion is removed from judicial decision-making. We may have all been created equal but we are far from being equal in life. To think otherwise is to discount the wealth of individual human experience.
For example, those with the capacity to forgive are far superior to those who relentlessly hold onto past harms, at least in my view of the world. It is what we choose to do with our life that sets us apart and defines who we are individually, and collectively.
Washington has used our tax dollars to enslave us, for our own good – to protect us from the “evils” of the world and we have become dependent on Washington, like an addict to the drug – local politicians are little more than puppets on a string. The spin-masters of career politicians are little more than fear-mongers making promises they cannot possibly keep and all we have to give them is our freedom and liberty.
Sleek campaign slogans and “public service” campaigns with catchy slogans like the “War on Drugs,” “Adam Walsh Act,” or “War on Terror” are used to “con” us into surrendering what little freedom and liberty we have left, on the promise of safety. This fear divides us and fosters discrimination.
“Trust me. I am from the government and I am here to help.”
As big government gets even bigger, the confidence that ordinary people have in its institutions grows weaker. (Government Expands, Trust Deflates; Forbes Magazine)
Voters have been fooled. Barnum was right, there is a sucker born every minute. Unfortunately for us, most of them now seem to be born here in America. This country was supposed a beacon of light that stood for Liberty throughout the world. When we look at government today we know who stands for liberty and who doesn’t. We know who wants to control your life and who doesn’t. (http://libertarianviewpoint.com/blog/?p=6116)
The days of “Mayberry” are long gone. Enforcers of the law once had the ability and the authority to resolve problems by exercising discretion, those times are past. It is “easier” to simply arrest and imprison everyone… or give everyone a speeding ticket. Similarly, the days of local government control has been traded to Washington and with it went our freedom.
Once, crime was a small part of the problem and America was united. Today, everything is a crime and America is divided.
In my view, the problem and the solution begin with accountability. It is easier, and more expedient, to blame others for our misfortune. As a society we have relinquished our personal power with the mantra “it’s not my fault!” Whether it is the economy, 9/11, or local street crime – the common refrain is to blame people or circumstances instead of the more difficult work of demonstrating accountability.
As a society, we expect…no we demand, accountability from others, but few are willing to account for their own actions. Instead we turn to the government to solve our problems for us and we look for someone to blame, rather than looking at how we may have contributed to the problem.
The problem is made worse by isolationist actions, such as excluding others with imprisonment, and through depersonalization. The latter is remarkably similar to a general lack of respect for others. Another word for this lack of respect and exclusion is discrimination.
Discretion without accountability results in discrimination and in the hands of self-serving politicians and their power hungry minions becomes a cancerous weapon of mass destruction. On the other hand, discretion with accountability promotes respect, cohesion, and healing.
The solution: breathe… take a good deep breath of AIR (Accountability, Inclusion, and Respect). When our actions and words convey the same message; when we treat others the same way we demand to be treated; and when we become willing to account for our those actions, we will again be united.
AIR: Breathe it. Live it. Live a life of purpose – on purpose.