POEM: Impartiality

Judge Stamper was renown
For his impartiality
Still thinking
Nothing of
Preferring
Stepping on others
Rather than being stepped upon
A justice so becoming
A courting to a void
Deputizing peons
Siding with minute ordnances
Backed up by deferential canons
Allege paper-thin
Untoward the tramped
His honor
Like a frozen statute
Without peers
A connoisseur of contrived generosity
More accustomed to threat than promise
Of a gavel from above
An arbiter of grievances
A master of small sells
To captive audiences
Gleaning threadbare
Take away messages
A requiem of dis interest
Overseers in black dress
Annunciating your last rights
Offering little chance of success
Unless over
A game of squash

This poem is a reflection on the criminal justice system, which is sometimes criminal.  The alleged impartiality is a convenient notion for those doing the judging.  Though if you look impartially at the effects of such a criminal justice system, you’d be hard pressed to say it is fair.  The poor are the most likely to experience injustice at the hands of the criminal justice system.  The same is true for people of color.  The rich are the most likely to have the criminal justice system protect them, or punish their opponents.  One only need look at who is in prison to see that prejudice is rampant, though noting who isn’t in prison surely cements the case.  White collar criminals are much less likely than “common” criminals to be convicted.  Also, if convicted, they receive much less punishment relative to the harm to society.

Well engineered legalisms often bear little resemblance to the truth.  Biases are institutionalized, blind to the injustice they create.  The veneer of objectivity helps shield unconscionable acts from their true effects.  Innocent until proven guilty is often reduced to he’s probably guilty if he was convicted.  This sad state of affairs seems to fit under the moniker of the banality of evil.  In an impersonal system, where human judgment is minimized and legalisms rule, personal responsibility is easily avoided.  The most palpable confrontation with this reality was during the Nuremberg Trials, following the horrors of Nazi Germany in World War II, which gave rise to a famous principle: It is not an acceptable excuse to say “I was just following my superior’s orders.”

The banality of evil is not limited to war crimes, nor international crimes.  The shifting of personal responsibility to an impersonal system is endemic in modern Western civilization.  This is an everyday experience for many, if not most, people.  Such experiences usually take one of the many forms of “I am just following the rules.” The real question should be: “Am I just, following the rules?”

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