top of page

Our Recent Posts


Thirsting for Justice

This was prompted by two things: First, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers. Second, I had just finished Netflix's documentary on Jeffery Epstein's vile life of debauchery and abuse. In both cases, ultimately, justice had not been done. That being said, Epstein is dead, while the murderers of George Floyd are still awaiting charges at the time of my writing this. I suspect that, while Epstein avoided justice in this life, he did not escape it in the next. What I hope is that justice will be done in the case of Mr. George Floyd. Regardless of whether he resisted arrest, or had previous run-ins with the police, it does not justify murder- neither legally nor morally. These situations always leave us with questions- one of which I'd like to address: Why does justice seem like make-believe?

Historically speaking, Justice is one of the trademarks of civilization. It is one of the four cardinal virtues. Americans have historically prided themselves in upholding justice- that injustice, atrocity, and cruelty were foreign to the "American spirit." This is, unfortunately, not the case. America, like it or not, is responsible for a plethora of injustices against pretty much everybody who isn't a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) or sinfully wealthy. Native Americans have had land stolen from them, and have been forced to march hundreds, if not thousands of miles from their homes to be kept to this day in reservations, where economic and social injustice is rampant. African Americans have suffered greatly as well, and perhaps most prominently, as not only the victims of slavery for hundreds of years, but also of systematic and often violent oppression on the part of the US government or other entities like the KKK.

Irish immigrants, suspected of popish treachery and debauchery- prone to drink, laziness, violence, and socialism- were often depicted as apes in 19th and even 20th century political cartoons. It had gotten so bad that Archbishop John Hughes, an Irish immigrant himself, had threatened to burn New York to the ground. "If a single Catholic Church were burned in New York, the city would become a second Moscow," in reference to the 1812 Moscow fire that practically destroyed the Russian capital.

Italians had suffered from similar nativistic hostility in the 19th century. Germans, during the First World War, were seen as traitors or spies- even if they had never been to Germany. During the Second World War, Japanese-Americans were treated the same, if not worse. Muslims, and people perceived as "middle eastern" have, in more recent years, been harassed and even targeted for violence. The list goes on and on, and it only makes clearer the need for reform, for a radical shift in how justice is pursued and how we are to enable it in our own lives.

But what is justice? How can we live it, how can we enact it in our own lives and in society if we do not know what it means? Too often, we equate justice with revenge. Look at most action movies in the past 25 years. One man's justice is really just an excuse, at least in Hollywood, for gratuitous violence on a large, unrealistic scale to satiate our urge to kill things. Vigilantism, while appealing, is not justice. Justice is not vengeance. As St. Paul says, vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19). In the 13th century, St. Thomas sought to define justice in his Summa Theologica.

"The aforesaid definition of justice is fitting if understood aright. For since every virtue is a habit that is the principle of a good act, a virtue must needs be defined by means of the good act bearing on the matter proper to that virtue. Now the proper matter of justice consists of those things that belong to our intercourse with other men, as shall be shown further on (Article 2). Hence the act of justice in relation to its proper matter and object is indicated in the words, "Rendering to each one his right," since, as Isidore says (Etym. x), "a man is said to be just because he respects the rights [jus] of others."

Now in order that an act bearing upon any matter whatever be virtuous, it requires to be voluntary, stable, and firm, because the Philosopher [Aristotle] says (Ethic. ii, 4) that in order for an act to be virtuous it needs first of all to be done "knowingly," secondly to be done "by choice," and "for a due end," thirdly to be done "immovably." Now the first of these is included in the second, since "what is done through ignorance is involuntary" (Ethic. iii, 1). Hence the definition of justice mentions first the "will," in order to show that the act of justice must be voluntary; and mention is made afterwards of its "constancy" and "perpetuity" in order to indicate the firmness of the act.

Accordingly, this is a complete definition of justice; save that the act is mentioned instead of the habit, which takes its species from that act, because habit implies relation to act. And if anyone would reduce it to the proper form of a definition, he might say that "justice is a habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will": and this is about the same definition as that given by the Philosopher (Ethic. v, 5) who says that "justice is a habit whereby a man is said to be capable of doing just actions in accordance with his choice"(II-II, q 58, a 1).

This is admittedly very technical, but it gets to what the core of justice is; namely, justice is "a habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will." It is patently obvious then that justice had not been done to George Floyd. The law, in that instance and many others, did not serve justice. It did not serve to protect the right of- or good of- the people. Law is fundamentally, whether you like it or not, enforcing morality. Murder is illegal because it is immoral, etc. A just law prevents such things- and is concordant with divine or natural law. An unjust law, on the other hand, would be in opposition to divine law. An example of this could be found in the old Jim Crow laws of the postbellum South which dehumanized and oppressed African Americans for decades. The essential function of law, as stated before, is a moral one. This was observed famously in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he writes the following:

"How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority."

Martin Luther King Jr. had a very acute sense of law and justice, and it showed forth throughout not only this letter, but his life. He was, of course, a proponent of peaceful protest and of dialogue. He did not want to make an enemy of whites. What he so ardently desired was for there to be real change, and real equality. Unfortunately, there seems to be quite a lot left to work towards. Police brutality is rampant, and the countless videos of the horrid treatment of protesters and reporters only serves to enrage. I saw one in which a police officer violently shoves a woman to the ground, hitting her head on the curb. It sent her to the hospital. She had done nothing wrong, as the video can attest to. Another shows a reporter and a cameraman being shot with "pepper balls" by a police officer- which was completely unprovoked. There is also the video of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez being arrested for no reason at all (thankfully, he was released soon after). Another which I had just seen was that of a police officer on horseback trampling a woman at a protest. The list goes on. All of these show a hyper-militarized police seemingly hell-bent on causing harm rather than bringing peace and justice.

The cracks are beginning to show. I am reminded, as one interested in history, of the fall of Rome in the 5th century. Decades of corruption and decadence led to its fall. We should never assume that America will last forever- because nothing does.

All that we see will, one day, fall away. It has happened before, and it will happen again. That is a fact of life and of human civilization. Are we to share the same fate in our lifetime? Are we so self-obsessed and caught up in our own decadence that we are unable or unwilling to see the sufferings of our own neighbors? We see the plight of others and say to ourselves that its not my problem. I'm comfortable, I'm happy. I get to do what I want. I have the luxury of choice and freedom, my personal and bodily autonomy. We paint ourselves as strong and independent demi-gods in complete control of our own destinies and our own little worlds that we make for ourselves, as if nothing can stop us- but it is further cementing the walls we have put around ourselves. We have made ourselves incapable of empathy and dull to the suffering and injustice all around us.

So where are we now? What are we to do when peaceful protests don't work? What are the other options? This question is faced by many who face the very real possibility of police brutality nearly every day. Changes must be made, that much is clear- Changes that allow black men and women to live in our communities without fear of harassment, abuse, or murder. Right now we as a nation are at a tipping point- we are at the cusp of change. Will we move forward? Will we strive to ensure safety, security, well-being, and peace for people of all races? Or will we slide back into the abyss of the status quo, abandoning those who are oppressed and forgetting Christ's command to love our neighbor?

bottom of page