I have a somewhat sceptical attitude towards judicial systems. In the last few months alone, I have seen a horrifying case where a woman was sent to prison for reporting a rape, draconian sentencing for rioting, and a close friend of mine sent to prison for a trifling issue–or, to be more precise, a pie-based issue, and much, much more to boot. As it stands, our system for dispensing justice is just another exhibit of societal prejudice, only differentiated from the bog-standard kind by the power it wields. A prejudiced person can only do so much damage. A prejudiced instrument of the state can harm many in much larger ways.
The rot is far from confined to the UK: take this recent, horrible case from the USA. A young gay man was murdered at his school by a fellow student. The jury has not been able to reach a verdict, and as such the trial was a mistrial and must be retried.
The defence does not rest upon the fact that the perpetrator did not shoot the victim: the defence freely admit to this fact. Instead, the defence rests upon “gay panic”–apparently, the victim “sexually harassed” the perpetrator, and he “just snapped” and managed to carry out an act of premeditated murder with a firearm.
Over eight weeks of testimony, the prosecution laid out a case of premeditated murder by McInerney, who prosecutor Maeve Fox described as a bright boy from a broken and violent home who knew what he was doing when he brought a .22-caliber gun to school.
McInerney was upset that King had come up to him at school the day before and said, “What’s up, baby?” Fox said.
He told a defense psychologist that he found King’s attentions “disgusting” and “humiliating” and that King would have to pay for it. He told a school friend that he was going to bring a gun to school the next day, and he did, Fox said.
Then, in a school computer lab, he shot King at point-blank range in the back of the head not once but twice before dropping the weapon and stalking out of the classroom.
Now, it’s never nice for someone to come on to you when you don’t want their attention. I have experienced this same kind of harassment myself, on a pretty much daily basis, every time I leave the fucking house. It can be disgusting and humiliating to experience this kind of harassment. The thing is, when it happens to me, I’m meant to take it as a compliment, because I am a woman and the people who ask me “what’s up, baby?” are men. The other thing is, when this happens to me, I don’t show up the next day at that same bus stop and blow the man’s brains out.
I haven’t even entertained the notion, though I was very interested by the game “Hey Baby“. In this game, you play a woman. Every time a man comes up to you and harasses you, you shoot him with a big fucking gun. It is a rather thought-provoking game–does street harassment really piss women off that much?–and it’s provocative as hell. It got people talking about street harassment, and much of the discourse surrounded how killing someone isn’t a very good comeback to street harassment because killing is wrong. I didn’t play the game very much for this reason: it was thoroughly divorced from my own worldview. Also, I am terrible at FPS games, and it’s not very fun looking up, looking down, rotating slightly, looking down, looking up, left, shoot the floor, look down when some cockbag NPC is telling me it wants to lick me all over.
The main point, though, is that killing is wrong, and people do not tend to snap and kill people after experiencing street harassment. Furthermore, if a young woman had bought a gun to school and murdered a man for saying “what’s up, baby?” I doubt a jury would have any trouble reaching a verdict. She would be found guilty as sin.
What is left, then, is an unpleasant stench of homophobia. What happened in this situation was a murder, a pre-meditated, cold-blooded murder. The jury should be able to easily reach a verdict.
Unfortunately, the whole case, from top to bottom, is steeped in prejudice. Prejudice was the drive for a defence that excused murder by claiming the perpetrator was grossed out by TEH GHEY. Prejudice was firmly in the minds of many jurors as the defence’s prejudice mingled with their own, justifying a violent crime. Prejudice played a part in the crime itself, the perpetrator’s disgust at another person’s sexual orientation a motive.
These prejudices, they leak into judicial systems. They allow victim-blaming to thrive in defences against rape, as these prejudices are so prevalent elsewhere. They are the reason that black people are disproportionately represented in prisons. They allow miscarriages of justice to happen.
Yet we still pretend that our judicial systems can dole out “justice”. Where is the justice in a murder case, when a jury cannot even identify a murder because their judgment is blurred by homophobia? The faith we have in courts is misplaced: they are not the best that we can get, they are a tradition which benefits those who are already blessed with most power. We can do better. We must do better.
Justice is not justice when it is so steeped in systemic hate.