Justice Moves

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I’ve been thinking a lot about justice because the more I look at society, the less I feel like I understand what justice represents.

Is it this: “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments”?

Or does this come closer: “the administration of law; especially the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity”? (Merriam-Webster)

How might it help to think more closely about what it means to be just? Try these on: “acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good ,” “being what is merited,” or “legally correct.” (Merriam-Webster)

Tell you what, try to decide what’s fair and you cannot get around asking “for whom? Under which policies/laws/structures? To what end?”

By now more of my attention runs in the direction of injustice because we’re surrounded by it. (Whether we know to acknowledge it or not.) Yet my picture of what justice is, does, sounds and feels like is so ill-defined as to be nearly illegible.

The immediate association with the courts and therefore the state prompts grief and bone-deep distrust. I do not trust the state to deliver justice to anyone really.

When we see the crime with our very eyes, on our devices, through 100 media outlets, we call for justice. We demand accountability. We expect the perpetrators to receive punishment. We speak of charges, sentencing, damages, jail time. The process is usually long and deeply uneven, depending on whose life, whose honor, whose reputation, whose money is at stake. Right and wrong are not necessarily the measures against which all crimes are actually measured.

How can I be an aspiring abolitionist if I desire to see certain people serve impossible jail terms? How can I say I dream of community repair while lusting for the punishment of vigilantes, terrorists and insurrectionists?

Abolitionist Mariame Kaba references Oakland organizer Morgan Bassichis’s idea that

“basically the very systems that we’re working to dismantle live inside us. And that really stuck with me when I first read it. It forced me to acknowledge my own complicity in forms of violence that I may not even personally be perpetrating in a intentional way… When you’re always in a position of seeing everything as outside of you, then you’re always on the outside looking in, which isn’t necessarily the best way to address forms of violence. We have to do both. We have to be on the outside looking in but also on the inside looking out.” –

Mariame Kaba, “Accountability Is Not Punishment” in We Do This Til We Free Us, p. 140

Cultivating a different, more humane understanding of justice requires a level of unlearning that I do not always feel prepared or equipped to take on. Sometimes the prospect of vengeance suggests an eventual relief. But I’m also sure that’s an illusion. I want to be in right relation with others

But hesitate to give anything up for it.

Again, Kaba

“If my focus is on ending harm, then I can’t be pro-deathmaking and harmful institutions. I’m actually trying to eradicate harm, not reproduce it, not reinforce it, not maintain it. We have to realize that sometimes our feelings – and our really valid sense of wanting some form of justice for ourselves – gets in the way of actually seeking the thing we want.”

“Accountability Is Not Punishment” in We Do This Til We Free Us, p. 155

“[S]eeking the thing [I] want” means holding this tension between my rage-adjacent feelings and my lofty hopes for a better, more just society. It means looking for how I practice justice in my day to day. How am I acknowledging harm, seeking repair, rebuilding trust?

Unlearning will tire a body out. Uprooting mental models that are so deeply ingrained requires support and community. Where will we open up space in our minds for justice to move and breathe? When will we become the sowers of justice in our communities? How shall we prepare the soil for forms of justice that allow us to grow in right relation with each other and our planet?

Knowing more is not always the answer I need. Some things require action – doing more, while saying less. Paying attention. Observing closely. Reflecting. Justice moves, a workout.

One thought on “Justice Moves

  1. You pose some deep & thought provoking questions. I am sitting with the strong theme that weaves throughout: that this work, this hard, painful, laborious work requires strength and energy, strength and energy that can often feel elusive but that somehow draws from community and others who are also doing the work. (I also appreciate the introduction to Mariame Kaba!)

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