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Retribution or justice?

Is our commitment to our system of justice strong enough to resist the current attacks on it?

Donald Trump recently praised the killing of a man sought in connection with a shooting in Portland: “US Marshalls killed him…there has to be retribution.” Trump had used the same phrase earlier talking about people who tore down monuments: “…there’s going to be retribution because there has to be…”

Retribution is defined as punishment inflicted on someone as vengeance for a wrong or criminal act. The concept comes from ancient times “an eye for an eye” or returning evil for evil.

Retribution is antithetical to our system of law and order. In a system of law and order — one that is more  than a campaign slogan — punishment is administered according to established rules and principles. In the United States we cherish these rules and principles: everyone is innocent until proven guilty; everyone is accorded due prcess; everyone has the right ta trial by jury. In a just system based on law and order punishment comes only after an impartial judgment.

If we accept Mr. Trump and his proposition that “there has to be retribution” we open the door for individuals to settle scores themselves—even individuals who wear police uniforms. President Trump not only praised Reinhoel’s killing as retribution, he also defended a man accused of murdering protestors on the
streets of Kenosha; he counts among his supporter’s vigilantes—armed groups who undertake “law enforcement” without legal authority. That’s how death squads operate in other countries.

We’ve already gone some way down the road to accepting retribution instead of justice: police kill a thousand people a year on the street or in their homes. We’ve gone down that road with things like “pre-trial
detention,” and “up charging” individuals so they wil forego a trial and enter a guilty plea in exchange for a “lesser” sentence. Will we turn back?

–BW

 

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