Though repentance comes neither easily, nor is its public admission always comfortably professed, the sacred interest of justice requires that man bow his ego to heaven, and when he has erred, to ask for apology. When in recent weeks I saw angry mobs marching against a man accused of murder, I stood in his defense, claiming that his accusers overstepped their boundaries, acting not in justice, but in historical and malicious revenge. My position on his accusers’ character has not changed: I still believe many of them to be irrational, unjust, and quite frankly, dangerous to civilization itself. But after careful consideration, I now believe the American system to have become so perverted from a Biblical standard, that both sides can now properly be considered victims.
Consider first the function of our present system. A citizen officer follows a suspect, which ends in a fatal encounter. The police, being unsure of precise details, must side with the man who called for their assistance. To have the opposite policy, to incarcerate every man standing at the scene of death, would leave many paralyzed in their own self-defense, knowing well that to use a weapon in simple protection could result in months of essential enslavement, an injustice prohibited by Biblical Law. Yet if a man is free to leave, as Trayvon’s supporters have so loudly complained, a murderer could very well be released. And if justice is not always so clear a process, if the rich, powerful, or even the so-called “privileged” have an inherent advantage in a particular system, they may, as Alexis de Tocqueville complained of the bail system, be able to walk free forever.
The Biblical process of justice, as in so many other ways, drastically differs from our own concerning trials, and the rights and liberties of those accused. In God’s Israel, cities of refuge were established so that any man accused of murder could flee to them, because whether he killed a man accidentally or purposely, he wasn’t immediately granted protection by the state. In short, before a trial had reached its verdict, unless the death resulted from a nocturnal home invasion (an obvious case of self-defense), the Law refused protection to any man accused of wrongful death. The victim’s family, in such an undetermined case, was alone given the right to take justice into their own hands and seek the accused himself, and supposing the accused was on good terms with the family, and it was understood that the victim was killed accidentally, forgiveness could be granted. But supposing the situation had hostile origins, or the accused had a history of violence and a generally poor reputation, the family could take pursuit and kill him themselves, unless the accused escaped into a city of refuge.
I ask the reader to consider how fair this Biblical process is. No group is without defense: whether poor or rich, foreigner or native, black or white, each and every group of people had recourse to self-preservation and a defense of their own honor. The power of forgiveness, if in case of accidental manslaughter, was always their right. Nobody accused of such a serious offense, unless he was both truly innocent and forgiven, could simply roam free: he had liberty and safety within a city of refuge, but until his innocence was maintained by a court of law, or (in the case of manslaughter) the judge presiding over his case passed away, his entire life changed for the worse. Men would tread carefully, knowing that even in innocence, their fortunes would drastically shift. Yet if the man was innocent during trial, his liberty would not be threatened by the state: it would only be restricted by the threat of a grieving family.
How many men have we imprisoned during extensive murder trials, only afterward to discover their innocence? How many more men would be unfairly imprisoned if we took the opposite policy? Why should a society let those accused of manslaughter go free, or, on the other hand, why should we subject the innocent accused — who, if they really are innocents, would be the true victims — to virtual enslavement, piling injustice upon injustice?
As an unusually important side note, though some of my readers are most likely disgusted, considering that a Biblical system permits families to avenge blood themselves (under the above specified restrictions), I don’t believe the Biblical system is any less humane than our current one. I’ve oftentimes seen men squirm with disgust when they witness animals being slaughtered, but yet because they’ve been so far removed from the actual routine, they still eat meat, and believe themselves innocent of the process. Likewise, because men essentially hire public servants to execute justice, the former’s cries for justice, for additional laws backed by state violence, accumulate, being emotionally alienated from the majority of suffering in which those laws result. But when the grieving family is alone given the right to avenge, when murderers are given into their hands, so that the families personally execute justice, law — in its real sense — condenses from a vapor to a palpable solid. No longer could we emotionally distance ourselves from a bureaucratic machine, but we’d be forced to hold it in our very hands. Not only would the state belong to us, but we would become the state. And when law becomes a reality, justice is served not only in the courts, but also in the hearts of citizens. There is nothing morally superior about refusing to perform justice yourself; passing the duty of force to a public servant simply rearranges the method by which that force takes place, and if any objection is to be made, the objection must be against the force itself.
I said before that Zimmerman deserved a fair trial, and I will stand by that statement in fair weather or in foul. But beyond the trial, God has prescribed a certain style of justice which must not be ignored, the violation of which can only result in divine displeasure. Whether Trayvon had been killed purposely or accidentally, both his family and any other family in their situation must have a recourse beyond what the police and courts afford them. And should our system not afford either party with proper rights, it is time we reconsider not race and class, but crime and penalty. For our Father, who holds not simply everlasting dominion, but our every breath within His hands, is watching, and we must seek His favor.