Justice in America

Justice, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is the maintenance or administration of what is just: Impartial adjustment of conflicting claims. Another definition is the quality or characteristic of being just, in partial or fair. Sometimes, justice in our legal system can be extremely elusive.

Justice not done

I am sure most of you remember Trayvon Martin. Mr. Martin was a 17-year-old walking back from a corner store when he encountered a community-watch guard, George Zimmerman, in February, 2012—almost ten years ago. George Zimmerman thought he had the right to stop in question Trayvon Martin. An altercation broke out, and George Zimmerman fatally shot and killed the unarmed Trayvon Martin.

In the subsequent trial, George Zimmerman claimed that he feared for his life during the altercation. Therefore, he said, he was justified in defending himself (by shooting Trayvon). Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

This was not justice.

No justice in Wisconsin

In August of 2020, Kenosha, Wisconsin police shot an unarmed 29-year-old gentleman named Jacob Blake. The video of this shooting was extremely disturbing. Blake was actually getting into his car. His kids were in the back seat. The police officer opened fire. Fortunately, Mr. Blake did not die—but he was left paralyzed from the incident.

Rioting broke out in Kenosha following the shooting. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old white man (boy), who lived in a neighboring state, decided that he needed to drive to Kenosha to help protect private property and also to act as “a medic.” (Rittenhouse has no formal medical training that I can find.) He brought with him an AR-15 rifle, though it is illegal for someone under 18 to own such a weapon (an adult illegally bought it for him).

As you can imagine, a man walking the streets during a large and sometimes violent street protest with a rifle will get noticed. An altercation broke out. Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two men. He wounded a third man.

The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse did not focus on the fact that he was a 17-year-old kid with delusions of grandeur who clearly walked into a heated situation with an illegal weapon. Instead, it focused only on the immediate minutes before he open fire. Kyle Rittenhouse—just like George Zimmerman—testified that he feared for his life. He imagined the two unarmed men were going to disarm him, and therefore he had to protect himself. By shooting them to death.

The jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty on all counts. He was allowed to walk free. Again, this isn’t justice.

George Zimmerman and Kyle Rittenhouse are similar people. In my opinion, they used poor judgment, and because of their actions innocent people needlessly died. George Zimmerman had no right to stop Trayvon Martin. Kyle Rittenhouse should have never brought a semiautomatic rifle to a volatile protest. Yet both men were allowed to walk free.

I do not believe that justice was served. As a matter fact, I would argue that both men were allowed to walk free because of the NRA. Both men were beneficiaries of laws that were written by the National Rifle Association.

Maybe Merriam-Webster needs to update its definition of justice and its opposite. The opposite of “justice” isn’t only “injustice”; sometimes it’s “white privilege.” And yet …

Justice achieved—in Georgia

Ahmaud Arbery was a 25-year-old black man who was out for a run in his hometown in Brunswick, Georgia. By all accounts, he was a kind and loving man. He like to stay in shape—so he went out jogging.

He was not far from his home when he was confronted by two men in a pickup truck—father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael. A third man, William Bryan, joined the pursuit. For some reason—or for no reason, other than that he was African American—these three white men concluded that Mr. Arbery was the same man who had vandalized house that was under construction in their neighborhood.

Gregory McMichael is a former investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. They decided they had the right to make a “citizen’s arrest.”

An altercation ensued. There was in a fight over the shotgun that Travis McMichael was carrying. Two shots were fired. Ahmaud Arbery was dead.

Because this happened in a small town in Georgia, the case almost disappeared before it got started. One prosecutor argued there was not enough probable cause to arrest those who shot Mr. Arbery. Another recused himself. The case finally went to the Cobb County prosecutor.

Fast forward to the trial, in which, somehow, an almost-all-white jury in Georgia (11 Whites, one Black) found all three men guilty on all courts. This was justice.

(In September, 2021, former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson was indicted in for “showing favor and affection” to her former subordinate Gregory McMichael during the investigation, and for obstructing law enforcement by directing that Travis not be arrested. This, too, is justice.)

Omicron

On November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, South African scientists reported to the World Health Organization that they had discovered a new variant of the coronavirus. It is being called “omicron” (the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet).

Right now, it is too early to determine whether this variant is more infectious or even more deadly than the original virus or the delta variant that hit this summer and fall. The initial response from the international community has been to restrict travel from South Africa. The United States is jointing suit.

I am not sure that this is the right move. Two years ago, China first identified the coronavirus, and the Trump administration told us that everything would be fine. They stood around and did nothing—and then they opted to limit travel from China. As it turns out, by the time the Trump administration had decided, the coronavirus had already crossed the Pacific Ocean and was in Washington state.

What was completely unknown at the time was that the coronavirus had actually crossed the Atlantic Ocean and was beginning to ravish New York. Apparently, it had already reached various places in Europe directly from China. The China travel ban was completely useless.

As of this writing, the omicron variant is already here. Eighteen states have reported the omicron variant by early December. I am not sure that limiting travel to South Africa has any value; in part, it punishes South Africa for doing the right thing: immediately alerting the world to the new variant. Instead, testing all passengers from South Africa and those who recently traveled to South Africa for coronavirus might be a much better move.

When will we learn?

We are beginning to enter our second year of dealing with the coronavirus. As soon as a surge passes, we begin to relax. Life begins to return to almost normal—then there is another surge. Over 789,000 Americans have died because of Covid-19, and many more will die during the next surge—and the one after that.

We must get as many people as possible vaccinated. We need to help the rest of the world get vaccinated. This is truly an international disaster. Until we get everyone vaccinated, we are going to continue to fight Covid. (By everyone I mean more than 90% of the adult population.)

’Tis the Season

So Merry Christmas to everyone. I’m serious. Merry Christmas. May your hearts be full of love and joy. In addition, wear a mask. Find a couple of special masks for the holiday season. Get together with family and friends who are vaccinated.

I would still avoid large crowds. I haven’t been to a movie theater in over 20 months. And remember, I love movies. I have been to theaters for the opening week of every James Bond movie since The Spy Who Loved Me. But I didn’t see No Time to Die until it was available on Google Play. Although I hated not to see it on the big screen, I thought that the title was talking to me. It was telling me not to risk it. Going to a movie wasn’t worth my life. It isn’t worth your life either. This is no time to die. 2021 was better than 2020. And truly, I’m looking for 2022 to be even better. So, not just Merry Christmas, but Happy New Year to all!

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.

Books

A Letter to America

The Thirteeneth Juror

Where is The Outrage Topics
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