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When was No Justice, No Peace Truncated to No Justice?

When was “No Justice, No Peace” Truncated to “No Justice?”

{8 minutes to read} I had an experience recently dealing with the court system, and it was for what I believed was a completely erroneous driving penalty. It was about whether I stopped for or rolled through a stop sign. This is not life-changing or interesting, but I have become like from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner fellow who has to keep reiterating the issues or my version of events and what I felt was true. And I felt it was so unjust that I was for once, driving so cautiously and perfectly, and then I was ticketed.

My sense of justice, truth, and fairness was inflamed. I felt like I wanted to litigate this and take it to the U.S. Supreme Court if they would allow me because I made a brilliant stop, a demonstratively elegant, deliberate, if not theatrical, stop.

The event in question occurred right in my town on Super Bowl night just shy of midnight. Because it was Super Bowl night, I was driving with an abundance of caution, well aware that I was likely sharing the road with police and drunk drivers alike.

As I approached the stop sign in town, I paused, looked to the left, and the right, and noticed (clocked) a police van waiting in a parking lot, stealthy and predatory, like a Great White. Seeing him, I made my stop practically performatively, with exaggerated care and full rotation of the neck, looking to my left, then fully to the right. Not a soul could be seen walking on any pavement, nor a single car headlight illuminating the desolate street. Notwithstanding, after resuming the drive and traveling only a few yards, the police vehicle, lights ablaze, signaled me to pull over. Like a lesser fish, I knew I was done for.

What followed was a microcosm of what intersecting with the justice system looks like. To avoid receiving points on my license, I submitted myself to the misleadingly friendly-looking local courthouse and its gentile if Kafkaesque bureaucracy. The upcoming moral is this: once you touch the legal system, regardless of whether you stand firmly within or shakily outside the “right,” you lose.

So, while awaiting my court date, I rehearsed and vented my points, out loud, while driving, walking the dog, and bathing. Knowing better, but wanting this outrageous violation of truth and justice, this gross misuse of power, to be rectified! I wanted to be heard and deemed correct!

I had to visit the municipal building at least once before the actual date when I would appear. I went to a window, and a delightful woman explained that I would return on such and such a date to meet with the Prosecutor and discuss a plea, etc. This filled me with false hope of gentlemen and women easily dismissing a poorly and wrongly served ticket. I continued to rehearse my argument, distilling it into concise points, ruminating about the unfairness, my being right, and elevating my blood pressure all the while.

I awaited the date, keeping my schedule clear and eyeing the appointment with dread and recalcitrance whenever I spotted it on my calendar. The day came. I dressed as best I could to appear as an extremely competent driver and reasonable person. After the checking-in formalities, emptying pockets and purses, standing in line, recognizing a neighbor, and exchanging diffident glances (two unfortunate fish caught in the same miserable net), all of us, the host of unfortunates, filed into the courtroom.

Soon the Assistant Prosecutor, a kindly, frazzled woman with a clipboard and no extra time to do her hair that morning, read off names from her list and found us. Without the privacy HIPAA affords the sick, she spoke in stage whispers to each of us, offering the same prepackaged deal (I paraphrase here) "Plead to a parking ticket (in lieu of the moving violation you are [erroneously] charged with), pay a $100 fine and you'll get no points on your license. Do you accept this?"

Inside, I didn't accept it. It was unacceptable! Now it’s worth noting that this tale of woe is not a lesson in municipal legal procedure. There would have been a different course had I asked for a trial, sought discovery, and so forth. I did not take that path as I hoped to keep this minor incident from taking over more of my time than warranted. The part of me still keeping company with reason and good judgment dictated that. (Pursuing a trial, for something that could likely be resolved for little cost and aggravation, would be nonsensical. Right as I thought myself, there are no guarantees in a trial and I could have ended up much worse off than with a simple fallacious plea deal.)

So, as directed by the Assistant Prosecutor, and although I felt like I was dangerously close to perjuring myself by affirming for the record what both the Judge and I knew to be wholly false, I proceeded thusly. I pled guilty to a parking ticket instead of innocent of a moving violation. My indignation still raged. Not only had the system been devoid of justice, I was besmirched and denigrated by taking any part in it. For the remainder of the day, I chanted to whomever was patient enough to listen, “No Justice, No Peace,” and equally irrelevant, but timelessly excellent, “All Power to the People.”

This minor and someday forgettable experience, a tiny dose of what my dear matrimonial clients endure more extensively and over matters of far greater import and enduring consequence, is shared to demonstrate several things of note. First, I believe the following may be more fundamental to our nature and impossible to overcome; we are hardwired to:

  1. We want fairness and justice (however, we may define it for ourselves).

  2. We yearn to be treated honestly and equally, and regarded as though our experience is worthy of consideration.

  3. Believe against our more informed understanding, that there should be a system to help us and represent the principles we hold dear.

  4. Our emotions have a powerful pull even when the situation contraindicates their relevance.

  5. It is difficult to process feeling both wronged and powerless.

Given the above, and much more, avoiding contact with the court system, whenever possible, is advisable. Our justice system operates by well-defined rules, inconsistent with how most of us handle important situations and interpersonal conflict. Though no system is perfect, mediation does a good job of respecting the human needs that are always present (and roused) in pivotal conflicts.

The higher the stakes — as in divorce with matters concerning children, financial security, and all aspects of life moving forward — the more crucial it is to engage in a process that encourages communication, comprehensive vetting of facts and points of view, and respects individuality as well as our shared humanity.


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