The rule of law and justice


This weekend, a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman (a middle-aged white guy) of murdering a black teenage boy.

The facts of the case:

  • George Zimmerman (GZ) had a gun; the boy had a bag of candy in his hand.
  • George Zimmerman saw the boy and followed him.
  • George Zimmerman called the police to report his suspicions about the boy; the police told GZ to go home.
  • George Zimmerman did not go home; instead he and the boy got into a scuffle and GZ shot and killed him.

The police arrested GZ, there was a long trial in court with witnesses, and Americans followed the case in the newspapers and TV.

Most American’s felt the jury’s verdict was wrong, and there was a great injustice done in this case.  Thousands of Americans protested and marched in the streets after learning that GZ would not be punished for killing an innocent boy.

I think about two examples of the justice system in the Gaza Strip that occurred while I was living there.

#1  –  Six men were accused of collaborating with the enemy (Israel) and were shot and killed, their bodies left in a public intersection with signs as a warning to people, and one body was dragged through the streets behind a motorcycle.

#2  –  A young woman was strangled to death by her father and brother for bringing dishonor to the family.  They believed she was having an inappropriate relationship with a young man.  Her mother denies it. Although the father and brother were arrested, the case was discussed as an honor killing.

These examples remind me that there is a big difference between a justice system and a legal system that enforces the rule of law.

I have a hunch that many Americans believe justice was NOT served in the first case, and many Palestinians believe that justice WAS served in the Gaza Strip.

Ideally, the legal system should result in justice, but when it doesn’t, do we have the right to take justice in our own hands?

George Zimmerman and the killers in the Gaza Strip would likely answer “YES!”

My answer:  Living under the rule of law is ALWAYS better even when justice is not served.  At least there is an opportunity to improve or fix the legal system.  Justice in the absence of a legal system is lawlessness and vigilantism.



Filed under Gaza, People

2 responses to “The rule of law and justice

  1. The German Nuremberg Laws of 1935 are another example of where adherence to law led to a bad situation becoming worse. Better to have opposed those laws, ie NOT live under them, I would think?

    Ditto for what is claimed to be US law, the right of a President to kill an American citizen w/o due process, the right of a bank or other corporation exceeding a certain size to be exempt from criminal prosecution, the law claiming executive privilege, state secrets, and the criminalization of reporting on government violations of law.

    There are laws so contrary to any sense of fairness/ justice so as to make adherence to law WORSE than no law at all.

  2. “Living under the rule of law is ALWAYS better even when justice is not served.”

    It seems to me this statement depends on the DEGREE to which a law reflects justice (itself not a self-evident, clear term). In minor departures of law from justice, it may well be true that adherence to law (presumably what is meant by “living under law”) is “better”, ie the aggregate harm from “injustice” is less than the aggregate harm from instability or what might well occur under vigilante justice.

    However, it seems o me that laws can be so unjust (the right of slavery, o the right to kill by virtue of assumed political power, eg) that the aggregate harm exceeds what might be expected under vigilante justice. Often this political power is backed by military power, causing “law” to contribute to making a bad situation worse. It seems to me that the VERY WORST INJUSTICES occur under the cloak of “law.”

    “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” — Voltaire

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