Justicia. Justice. It’s something I think a lot about, especially in my work with the Urban Justice Center. What is justice? Whose justice: mine, yours, the government’s? How do I act justly in a world full of injustices?
I’m sure many of you have heard about the execution of Troy Davis (if you haven’t, Google his name and there will be info everywhere). Davis, a black man, was convicted of the 1989 murder of a white policeman and sentenced to death by lethal injection. Since that conviction there have been many twists in the case such as witnesses recanting their testimonies, no physical evidence or murder weapon linking Davis to the murder, and the confession of another man to the murder. All this and 3 delayed death sentences later, he was murdered last night by our “justice” system. I feel raw and am reeling from the news– yes, I never knew the man, but I have been following his story and know people who met him and I feel a sense of loss. In fact, I want to cry. What kind of justice is this??
September 11th also brought to mind the concept of justice. Ten years ago I was twelve years old, living in Pennsylvania, far removed from the reality and severity of the World Trade Center attacks. But, being in New York, ten years later, watching the “live” telecast of that day and feeling the impact the tragedy had on this city was a completely new feeling for me. It was as if I was seeing it all and experiencing it for the first time.
I think of what has happened in those ten years: we (our country, in our name) has launched a war, killed thousands more than we can imagine, sought out and killed Osama and members of his family, wrought our own form of terror on many parts of the world and all this in the name of justice. Justice for whom? Perhaps I am naive, but I still feel in the deepest core of my being that killing for killing is not justice: how could it be? It is not bringing a life back, it is not bringing healing, it is not bringing closure (although some say it does). What kind of justice is this??
A final thought on this concept of justice comes from an experience I had last night. I served food at a World Vision/UN photography exhibit on poverty. Many rich, famous, important diplomats and CEOs were present. The venue: a brand new, $17 million penthouse. I can’t help but see the incredible irony in this: a discussion on poverty in a penthouse, photographs of poor, crying (exploited) children and mothers being examined by wealthy elites holding wine glasses, talk of eradicating poverty while standing in one of the grandest buildings in New York. Is this justice for the poor?
I realize there are points where we need to speak truth to power and we need to talk to the “important” people in order to change policy but where is the level of discomfort? Where is the solidarity with the poor? How can we truly understand poverty while we are drinking champagne and eating hors d’oeuvres? This city is making me realize that if I were to lead the lifestyle of these types of advocates I would be betraying my soul.
Justicia. It is a powerful word to me. For one, justicia is a feminine pronoun in Spanish and I love the power of such a strong word in a feminine light, not something we see very often in American culture. Also, justicia is a genus (subfamily) of beautiful flowering plants like the water willow. What a beautiful picture, justice as a flower: beautiful, natural, holisitic, grass roots, restorative– the way it should be. And, a hopefully ovbious reason by now, is that justicia is an integral part of our lives, it is the deep cry for wholeness at the core of our beings and the fight for justice is the foundation for many wars and peace talks alike. My hope is that the justicia we cling to is that of hope, healing, and wholeness.
I want to leave you with a prayer that a friend shared with me in college:
Thank you, God, for bread.
Give bread to those who are hungry,
and hunger for justice to those of us who have bread,
Thank you, God, for bread. Amen.
-Latin American prayer
(Here is the Spanish translation which I hope is correct!).
Gracias Dios, por el pan.
Dar pan a quienes tienen hambre,
y el hambre de justicia a quienes tienen pan.
Gracias Dios, por el pan. Amén.
I pray this prayer for all of you.