Aspirations of Justice

I have worked in a law office for almost two years now.  I have no preconceived notions of glory that will happen when I am a lawyer.  I know that clients will be needy and rarely ever grateful.  I know that clients will sometimes be their own worst enemy.  I know that even when they aren’t, there are plenty of other enemies out there wanting to pounce.  I know that you will go from being busy to having fifteen things that need to get done in the next fifteen minutes.

I know that you will never feel like you are caught up on your work, and you will always feel like you are forgetting to do something important.  I know that this work is exhausting, it is emotional draining, it is mental taxing, and some days it will break you.  But I also know that this work is important, because at its foundations is justice and fairness for all.  It is work that is worth aspiring to.

We as Americans tend to have an idealized idea of how our justice system works.  We like to think that we have the great leveler of justice right at our finger tips.  A place where the truth will also prevail and good will always win.  This is the courtroom of America that we put on a pedestal.  But I see a different courtroom.  I see a place where the innocent go to prison and the guilty go free.  I see a place where the victims are often victimized a second time by the justice system.

I see a broken justice system.

You may wonder why if I have lost so much faith in our justice system, why oh why am I so eager to jump in with the throws of attorneys and join it.  I will tell you why.  Because it breaks my heart to watch it happen, and I am sick of sitting on the sidelines.  I am sick of being the girl that complains about our justice system instead of being part of the solution.

I know that I can’t fix an entire broken system, but maybe if I can just fix it for one person, maybe that will be enough.  I know that truth and justice are unattainable aspirations, but that does not mean that we should aspire for them any less.  

My boss once told me that visibility brings change.   Meaning that if the common person in America knew what really went on behind closed doors, there is no way they would not demand change.

We fool ourselves into believing that we don’t have a voice, or that our voice doesn’t matter.  We don’t believe that we have any power to change anything at all.  Change will not come by us playing small.  Stop playing small.  Stop playing scared.  Stop pretending you voice doesn’t matter.  Stop sitting there telling yourself that this is just how life is, and stand up and demand change.  Get angry.  Get vocal.  Not in a way that we are fighting with against each other, but in a way that we are fighting with each other.  Demand visibility.  Demand change.  Because until we demand change, change will not come.   

Philly

Photo Credit: Lori Rensink

 

 

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I Never Meant to Become a Feminist

Because I never meant to become a feminist but I did anyway.

Because we have tried to silence women who stand up for themselves by turning feminism into a dirty word.

Because if I had a dollar for every time I was interrupted or overlooked then maybe I would earn equal wages.

Because I want to be able to walk to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon without being verbally harassed.

Because I don’t need your whistled stamp of approval to know that I am beautiful.

Because we live in a culture where the girl is “asking for it” but she doesn’t dare ask to be left alone.

Because it is my body, not yours, and that means I get to decide how it is treated.

Because it is better to put on lipstick and not let boys be mean to you.

Because it takes away the shame of never being enough and replaces it with pride in who you are.

Because my mother was sexually abused and no one did anything about it.

Because my sister in law was sexually abused and no one did anything about it.

Because my best friend was sexually abused and no one did anything about it.

Because one out of every four women are sexually abused and no one does anything about it.

Because I had to learn martial arts just to feel safe in my own skin.

Because enough is enough.

Because it breaks my heart but it is easier to just be angry.

Because I never meant to become a feminist, but I didn’t like the alternative.

feminisim

Photo Credit: French by Design

A Call for a Little Bit of Perspective and a Whole Lot of Grace

First let me start out by saying that my purpose for this blog is not to start an argument.  The truth is that I haven’t spent hours pouring over the details to be able to promise that I have ever fact straight.  I have however read enough.  I could get all of my facts down to a science and start throwing them at you, but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t actually sway you in any direction other than the one you are currently at.  Instead you would just throw more facts back at me.  We would get angrier and angrier at each other, all the while not making any sort of progress.  I am asking that agree to skip that part so can begin to have an open conversation about these issues.

This is not me trying to defend either side by saying one side was justified is their actions.  A young man was killed.  I think we can all agree that is a tragedy.  Just as I am not trying to justify either side, I am also not trying to deem the tragedy of Freddie Gray’s death.

I am trying to bring some perspective, and hopefully act as a mediator.  Because I do understand both sides of the story.  I do want to stand up for the rights of the little guy, the rights of those who have been silenced under the foot of powerful.  Please believe me when I saw that I know that police brutality and racial profiling are real issues that also need to be addressed.  But I am also a criminal justice major who understands the the type dangerous situations that police officers have to face.  I also know all too well how easily the media can make our perspective of right and wrong all of a sudden seem very fuzzy.

In addition to being a criminal justice major, I also worked in a prison.  Admittedly it wasn’t a very dangerous prison, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t people in there who wouldn’t stop to hurt me if they had the chance.  You never know what is going to happen and who is really dangerous.  It is unfortunate but true that many of the best criminals are masterminds at deception.  The horrifying truth is that most of the time you only have a split second to decide if this person is truly innocent or just good at acting like it.  In the hindsight it is easy to see one action as an overreaction.  When we have time to process all of the facts, it becomes obvious which party was in the wrong.  Time is a luxury that many of our police officers do not have.  They have to react in the time given with the facts they are given.  And sometimes that will mean they make mistakes.  I wish with all of my heart that those mistakes didn’t cost Freddie his life, but the reality is that a mistake in the opposite direction could just as easily cost a young police officer their life.  It is unfortunate reality, but it is the reality that we live in.

I have read about a lot of angry people who want the police department to step up and punish those in their force who did wrong.  And I can agree with that, to a certain extent.  There are a lot of things that should have been done better in that situation, things that might have potentially saved his life.  Someone needs to take responsibility for those mistakes.  However I also understand the horrible position it puts the police department in.  As soon as you start throwing officers under the bus for defending themselves, you have officers who hesitate to defend themselves when they should, and soon you have officers who end up dead because of that hesitation.

We could argue until we are blue in the face about who deserves what punishment, but that isn’t going to bring  Freddie back to life.

Being human is hard, it is so very hard.  Being a human in a minority group is even harder, just as it is harder to be a human who goes to work every day with the risk that they could die.  So instead of judgment and pointed fingers, I am asking for a a little bit of perspective and a whole lot of grace.  Despite how many facts we think we know about the situation, we can never completely understand that circumstances that caused each party to react the way that they did.

But I mean what do I really know?  Not a whole lot if I am being honest.  I realize that admitting this does not do much for my argument.  Which is just my point, because I am not trying to win an argument.  I am trying to create an open discussion in which we can understand each other so we can decide what needs to be done to help this not happen again in the future.  You can hate me for it if you want.  If hate makes you feel better.  My guess is that it won’t.  But if you feel that you need to, I am not going to stop you. Before you chose how to react, think about these words from my pal Ghandi,  “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Innocent Until Proven Guilty – Or so We Would Like to Believe

Not very often do I put down a book right when it starts to get good. However when it came to The Innocent Man by John Grisham I was so appealed at the injustices that I simply could right read any more.  I put this book on my summer reading list at the suggestion of one of my criminal justice professors. The book is about two murders that happen in the small town of Ada.  If you haven’t guessed by the title of the book, the murderers that are apprehended and placed on death row are innocent.  I have never supported capital punishment for many reasons.  The most prevalent of those reasons being its horrifying inaccuracy.  In the last 40 years there have been 142 death penalty exonerations (meaning the guilty was found innocent and released).  It is impossible to determine how many innocent people were put to death on top of the 142 that were exonerated.  However in many cases, exoneration evidence of innocence were found by chance.  So it is safe to say that for every lucky discovery of innocence, there is another innocent person put to death, and for every innocent person put to death there is another guilty person going unpunished.  So I knew going into this book that it was probably going to upset me, I just didn’t realize how much.

I had gotten to the part of book where they began the investigation of the second murder (after not having much of a lead on the first murder). The police brought in for questioning two guys Karl and Tommy who were suspects based on the hearsay of small town gossip.  The three cops began to interrogate Tommy first.  His interrogation lasted an entire day with no breaks.  During his day long interrogation Tommy was verbal, mentally, and emotionally harassed and physically threatened.  Of course the cameras were not turned on during this process.  The cameras were finally turned on when Tommy agreed to come up with a confession on the promise that he would be released if he did.  Tommy figured it was his only way for the cops to let him go and that any good detective and judge would be able to see through his obvious lies.  Tommy was not released, and a few days later Karl went through the same brutal interrogation process. There were many discrepancies between Karl and Tommy’s confessions as well as many obvious lies, but the police and entire town had already assumed them guilty.  Tommy and Karl spent the next year in jail while the police searched for any hard evidence that would support the confessions.  After a year of finding no evidence, it was decided to proceed with the trial and prosecute based solely on their faux and forced confessions.  Confessions that should have never been admissible in a court of law.  Hopt v. Utah ruled that any confession obtained based on the accused hopes and fears deprives the accused of his ability to voluntarily confess, and therefore is not admissible.  Bram v. United States ruled that all confessions must be free and voluntary and not extracted by any sort of threats, violence, or promises, however slight.  Any confession obtained this way is not admissible in a court of law.  Blackburn v. Alabama ruled that a prolonged interrogation is considered a type of psychologically coercion.  Miranda v. Arizona ruled that a suspect has a constitutional right not to be compelled to talk, and any statement made during an interrogation cannot be used in court unless that police and prosecutor can prove that the suspect clearly understood their rights.  So even if Tommy and Karl’s confessions had been true, they still would have been a constitutional nightmare.  However despite the discrepancies between the two confessions and the lack of evidence to back up the confessions, the trial date was set.  The defense attorneys requested that the trial be held at a non-partial venue and were denied.  A biased jury was selected of people who knew and were sympathetic to the murder victim and who had already made up their mind about Tommy and Karl’s guilt.  Tommy and Karl were sentenced to the death sentenced.  After that I was too horrified to keep reading.

After spending a year and a half working the in penitentiary and witnessing the injustices there, I couldn’t bear to see any more corruption in the criminal justice system.  Not exactly encouraging for someone who just decided to go to law school in a year.  I wish that I could dismiss this as a one time injustice, but the statistics on capital punishment disagree (and they don’t even include non-capital punishment inmates that could also be innocent).  How does this happen in a nation that promotes fairness and justice and innocence until proven guilty?  In the case of Tommy and Karl, it happens when we become so desperate for answers and someone to blame that we ignore the obvious facts in front of us.  It can happen when we are too quick to assume someone is guilty, or too quick too assume someone is innocent and blame the wrong person.  It can happen when we believe what the media and everyone else tells us to believe,  instead of looking at the facts objectively for ourselves.  Too often we are quick to claim an opinion on something that we really know nothing about, and then we become blind by our opinions.  So do not be so quick to assume you know all the facts and jump on the band wagon.  Think for yourself instead of believing everything you are told, and realize that there might be more to a case or to a person than meets the eye.  After all if it were you on trial and the only one believing your innocence, wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you?

Scribbles of Hope

In highschool English class we watched the movie Amazing Grace, and ever since then I have had this dream that I will grow up to be someone like William Wilberforce.  Someone who fights against all odds to battle the injustices of our world.  The older I get the more crazy and unrealistic this dream has become, but it is still there I just silence it with reasonability and responsibility.  But now I have this idea that I love but think is stupid, crazy, and will never work. But isn’t that how changes starts?  When someone dares to hope that their stupid idea but just be crazy enough to work.  No one can ever be practical when attempting something crazy life changing venture.  I mean Esther didn’t just go up to the King and ask him to only save one or two of her close Jewish friends. So I am sitting here thinking about my idea and how ridiculous it is that I could believe this could work.  But I bet Esther probably thought that too.  Worse case scenario at least I won’t get killed.

So here it goes.  Many of you may not know this, but I am a very passionate person.  If passion could be a spiritual gift then it would be one of mine.  And one of my passions, which is the injustices and horrors of sex trafficking, has been growing like a fire in my soul. I guess as a bruised and broken woman my heart goes out to women who are even more bruised and broken than I.  And then recently I stumbled upon this book Undaunted by Christine Caine .  I haven’t finished it yet, but she addresses the issue of sex trafficking and our belief that we are too insignificant for God to use us.  Boy did that one hit home (Isn’t it crazy how God sneaks the right things into our laps?).  Over the last year I have been telling myself that once I start my career as a tough criminal justice something or other then I will join the fight against sex trafficking.  But what about now?  Am I just suppose to ignore the cry of my heart that aches for the women who have been silenced and reduced to a commodity? Well I can’t wait anymore.  Only I wasn’t really sure what I could do.  I can write . . . kind of, and I can paint . . . kind of.  But I am not very good, and I am just me what could I really do?  Only I am not just me now am I. That is the point of trusting God to use us.  We give Him our scribbles of words and paintings and hope that He can use them to impact someone.  so are you ready to hear my crazy idea?  Are you sure??  Good.

So I can write, that is a start.  This is start to me writing about this issue I am so passionate about, and hoping that some of that passion wears off onto you.  Secondly I can paint, and I plan to paint about sex trafficking.  And here is where I need your guys help.  My hope is that you guys will actually want my paintings.  I have this crazy idea that you will “buy” paintings and I will donate all the money to The A21 Campaign which is an organization that fights against sex trafficking (more info on this in later blogs).  I figured this way everyone wins.  I get to paint and share about something I am passionate about.  You get a painting that can remind you to pray for all of the victims around the world, and yes even here in Sioux Falls.  And some women will get the hope that someone somewhere cared enough to help her.

So that is my crazy idea.  I still have a lot of kinks to work out, mainly being I still don’t know if I like my first painting.  But I wanted to throw my idea out there.  As I mentioned my first painting isn’t done, but I have one I have already done that I feel fits quite well. So while I keep praying and figuring out the kinks I want to leave you with a few lyrics from the song Boston:You don’t know me and you don’t even care. You don’t know me and you don’t wear my chains. No one knows my name.

These lyrics gave me chills after I thought about how real their meaning is for so many women.  My hope is that I can change that for at least one woman. Want to help me?

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