Sunday, August 11, 2019

Rebalance of Power

I was reading an article in The Atlantic that tied the jailhouse suicides of Jeffrey Epstein and Sandra Bland into a broader pattern of such deaths. It noted:

Preserving life is our moral and legal responsibility. Sandra Bland could have been our daughter, our sister, our loved one, our friend. Jeffrey Epstein was certainly not a sympathetic character, but his death, while perhaps leaving some victims relieved, deprives others of a sense of justice.
That deprivation of a sense of justice was illustrated in another piece in the magazine that asked: "How did [Epstein] manage to evade accountability, this final time?" For my part, I'm uncertain that dying in jail by one's own hand counts as an evasion of accountability, even though that may not be the consequence that people may have wished.

But what I took away from those statements was the idea that for many people, vengeance is a primary component in the pursuit of justice. Being dead is the worst thing that can happen to a person, until it becomes the "easy way out" of dealing with something that others think they should endure, whether that be the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or the legal consequences of crimes (pre or post conviction). And the idea that death, when it comes between a person and justified vengeance, represents an escape from accountability raises the question of whether society regards justice/accountability and vengeance as two different things. And if it doesn't, is much of the pursuit of justice driven by a desire to reaffirm the value of the wronged party by giving them a certain amount of power of those who have been judged to have wrongfully wielded power themselves. Perhaps more simply, is accountability about restoring a sense of value to a wronged party through a grant of power, either direct or vicarious?

While that seems to be asking for trouble, I'm unsure what other forms of accountability might suffice, if that definition is incorrect. Even restorative justice ideals, after all, usually require that the offender do something for the wronged party, with an express aim of reducing the latter's feelings of powerlessness. Power, however, is often personal, and this, perhaps, is how notions of personal worth become bound up in it. And I suspect that it's this that often leads to abuses in the name of justice. Not that what Mr. Epstein was facing would count as abuse at this point. Still, there are people other than him to still be dealt with, and I'm curious as to what will happen to the next notorious case that comes along.

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