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by Peter Moskos

January 13, 2009

BART Shooting (III)--Justice?

I'm very interested in the concept of justice. Especially in situations where there really can't be any.

So let's just say that the police officer is put on trial and says, "I plead no contest. I didn't mean to do it. But I did. All I remember was that there was a large crowd yelling and a man was struggling. Next thing I know I hear a gunshot and look down and discover it was my gun. I didn't ever realize I was holding my gun. I feel terrible for the victim and his family. I'm sorry. I beg the court's mercy."

What should happen to the police officer? What is appropriate justice in a case like this?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Justice is an incredibly difficult concept to define. It's totally subjective. Some believe in restorative justice, while others would opt for a Hammurabi-type response (lopping off of extremities,torture, killing the suspect and/or their family, etc.) That is why we have an organized justice system, and minimum standards of behavior for the citizen and the state. I am not satisifed with the mechanisms currently in place to hold state actors accountable, but I also find anarchist theories of law enforcement to be lacking.

I was once assigned to do write a definition of justice as a Criminal Justice undergrad. This was several years ago, and I don't recall my answer. I just remember it being very difficult. Off the top of my head, I would say that justice is (or should be) a process in which society tries to restore some sense of normalcy to the life of a victim.

Using this definition, it seems impossible to get justice for the family of Oscar Grant or other homicide victims. When restitution is insufficient, the criminal justice system needs to focus on sanctioning the behavior of the offender, and possibly removing him from society in the name of public safety. I don't know if the officer in question is a long-term threat to public safety. I tend to doubt it. I don't think he will go on to commit other violent crimes. But even if this was a momentary lapse, a man is dead. I'm not totally familiar with California Penal Code, but I believe this looks like negligent homicide, involuntary manslaughter or something similar.