Law in Contemporary Society

Beasts of the Law

-- By VendarrylJenkins - 01 Mar 2018

Law: Good or Bad

When I first began to learn about law, it was presented in terms of justice. There was the bedrock of written law, which we learned was the Justinian code. As I was taught, the evolution of that law throughout societies informed me that no one was above the law. My teacher used to say that law was the great equalizer of all men. But, today I understand a different reality. I understand that justice for all, still does not include little Black boys and girls, and while the law may apply to all, it applies differently. I have reconciled my teachers’ position that law created order for society, and therefore promoted a necessary societal good. However, the order that law has created is one in which a race is oppressed. The law has created an order, but order itself is not inherently good, and in fact the present order the law has created is an injustice. Law devoid of justice is a great evil. Maxwell Anderson said that, “without law men are beasts.” But the current laws have relegated a race of people to that subhuman class.

The Law's cure is a greater social evil

The contention that law is a utilitarian tool that promotes the greatest amount of good, fails as one examines the current state of incarceration for many of the most at risk members of the community in the United States. The explosion of the percentage of African Americans behind bars is a result of a campaign labeled the War on Drugs. It pushed severe sentencing for both using and selling drugs. The effort was an attempt to thwart the drug epidemic that many argued was ripping through urban minority communities with dangerous addiction. The aim was an obvious societal good. However, the true result has been the incarceration of nearly one in every four Black men. It is impossible to reconcile the theory that law is a utilitarian tool when it has been used to bring about an even greater evil than the evil it was meant to cure. Law cannot be both a system that brings about the most good, yet also be a system that promotes oppression, degradation, and inequality. This points to a fundamental contradiction in the purpose of the law, and how it interacts with our reality. Every law has a proceeding effect, and those results must become a factor calculated in the arithmetic of good and bad law.

The Law Betrays our Innate Beastly Inclinations

A common result of the law has been the disenfranchisement of a significant number of Black Americans, numbering in the millions. While this is a policy decision left to the states, it demonstrates the precision with which powers have compounded injustice and left little room for a single challenge to remedy the injustice. The disenfranchisement obfuscates the most basic principles of freedom and democracy, traded away to promote a drug free America. The law is a system that has found fit to hold captive the most fundamental aspects of human society, freedom and enfranchisement, and traded them away for the basic aim to prevent drug usage, and other so called “immoral” crimes. It demonstrates an inability to leverage proper deterrent techniques and underscores the innate beast, which would defer to draconian measures. We have order, but it is bad order.

Fixating on Small Social Ills to Avoid Great Legal Failures

It was the law that allowed the senseless gunning down of Trayvon Martin, and more dramatically, it was the law that permitted slavery, promoted anti-miscegenation, failed to punish the thousands responsible for lynching and torturing Black bodies, ensured the Black and white wealth gap through redlining, and diluted the Black vote through gerrymandering. The law allows us to point to those that use drugs, or steal, we label those people as the beasts of society that must be contained. Why is it so easy to go to jail for drugs, yet so hard to punish hate crimes, or sexual assault, or discrimination based on race, gender, and religion? Why have we failed to punish the deepest evils plaguing our society, and in fact used the law to exacerbate them? We allow the real beasts to roam free, unchecked by the law. Their actions do not meet the definition of illegal, so we say they are not beasts at all, though it is them that make life nasty, brutish, and short for the oppressed.

The Gavel of Bullies

In reality, the law is the source of power for the powerful. It is the method that they use to exact their will on the weaker members of society. They are the same beasts of lawless times, yet instead of using brute force, their exploitation and dominance is maintained through the written word, and therefore the force is legitimized. But, laws that betray justice, are not legitimate, and laws that perpetuate greater evils than the social harms they were meant to prevent are intolerable. It would seem that the law has been abused to ensure the greatest suffering and unhappiness for millions of Black Americans, betraying its utilitarian and moral purpose. Surely, there have been the great victories of justice for society ushered in through law, but we can name those victories so easily because they are so rare.

My Black Lawyer's Guide

So, if I must inherit the power inequities that accompany being a Black man in America, I may as well understand the tool being used against me. If I cannot beat the oppressor, I may as well learn to evade his traps. If I cannot break down the doors of the jails, I may as well understand how to keep future generations beyond its death grip. Some people live in a world in which they’ve never had to shout out in chorus, “I can’t breathe,” but I hope the value I add to the profession will ensure that does not remain my reality.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r5 - 27 Apr 2018 - 04:03:44 - VendarrylJenkins
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM