Fairness Within Courts, a Critical Analysis Essay based off of To Kill a Mockingbird
Fairness Within Courts
“But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest JP court in the land, or this honourable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.”, is a quote by a character named Atticus from the book “To Kill a Mockingbird”, by Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird was based off of Lee’s childhood, which occurred during the Great Depression, a troubled time for many Americans where a lot of social and economic problems came to light. The meaning behind that quote is based off of the claim that within the courts, all are equal. In an ideal world, this would be true. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. In the real world, the courts are not fair, and will never be one-hundred percent fair. As Atticus says, "I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty." (Lee 274) In that quote, Atticus states that how a court is only as fair as its jury, who is only as fair as the people that make up the jury. Because humans are naturally flawed and imperfect, our courts will never be completely fair, and that fact shines so disappointingly bright in society.
An example of unfairness within our courts is the sheer rate of incarcerations that occur in America. Why is the rate of incarcerations an important factor for determining fairness in courts? Primarily because the percentage of incarcerations due to to drug related factors is just below 50%. (Sledge, The Drug War and Mass Incarceration by the Numbers) And, keep in mind, that these people that are getting put in prisons are put in there with people that have intentionally killed, or attempted to kill a human(s). I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, a stoner/person who’s helping someone destroy their lives because they’re too stupid to know that doing drugs is a bad thing doesn’t deserve to be treated the same as murderers or rapists. Now that we’ve got the reason why the rate of incarceration is important in determining fairness within our justice system out of the way, let’s move on to numbers and facts. The US contains about 5% of the entire world’s population, and 25% of the world’s prisoner population. (Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, www.NAACP.org) That’s a quarter of the entire world’s population of prisoners. In terms of incarceration rates per 100,000 people, America isn’t doing so hot either, with 698 people per 100,000 jailed an year. Let’s compare the “land of the free” to some other countries. Let’s start with Belarus, “Europe’s last dictatorship”. For the less informed, Belarus is a former soviet state under a totalitarian regime led by Alexander Lukashenko. It has kept its Soviet roots strong, and is the last country where the infamous Soviet security agency the KGB, is still active. It’s incarceration rate is 306 per 100,000 (List of countries by incarceration rate, en.wikipedia.org), which is HALF the imprisonment rate that the US has. For the “land of the free”, Amurica isn’t so free, compared to a dictatorial state. How about another country with freedom levels low enough for liberation by Amurica? China will do. It’s incarceration rate is about 165 per 100,000 people. (List of countries by incarceration rate, en.wikipedia.org) Pretty surprising considering that China is a nation known for the put-down of protests with force and a policy of “reeducation through labor”, which is comparable to a Soviet gulag, only with less Russians, vodka, potatoes, and being used as the brunt of many “Soviet Russia” jokes, and more Chinese with less denunciation and jokes from the interwebs. (Re-education through labor, en.wikipedia.org) Now let’s compare the Amurican incarceration rate to some of those pinko commies off in europe. I’ll use two countries in my comparison, Austria, who just closed off its borders to the Syrian refugees (Austria suspends Schengen agreement, steps up border control, tells EU to sort out migrant crisis, www.rt.com), and Sweden, whose population is roughly 14.3% foreign born. (Immigration to Sweden, en.wikipedia.org) Austria has an incarceration rate of just 96 per 100,000 people, and Sweden, with only 60 per 100,000 people imprisoned an year. (List of countries by incarceration rate, en.wikipedia.org) If you judge the fairness of a court by the amount of people it incarcerates an year, America is definitely on the unfair side of the spectrum.
Another example of unfairness within our criminal justice system is the difference between sentences on similar crimes based on gender and other biases. There was a study conducted by Sonja Starr, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan that’s stated that males will generally get sentences that are 63% tougher than that a female would receive for a similar crime. (Men Sentenced To Longer Prison Terms Than Women For Same Crimes, Study Says, www.huffingtonpost.com) They have also observed that women are more likely to avoid charges and conviction entirely, and are twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted, compared to males. The differences between sentencing doesn’t end there either, with a government study stating that black and latino men are more likely to receive longer sentences compared to their white counterparts. The study also said that a black man’s sentences would on average be 23% longer than a white man’s, and for latino men, their sentences would be about 7% longer than a white’s. (Minority men get longer jail terms, www.kansas.com) While the variances of the sentencings between the racial and gender groups are present, there could be other factors besides race and gender that influence it. However, one cannot dismiss these statistics as pure chance. There is something that’s influencing the judges of these cases decisions, and that is making our courts unfair.
The final example of inequality within our courts of law that we will be exploring in this essay is quite possibly the most controversial. It’s so controversial that several riots in quite a few US cities were caused by this hot topic. You know it, the media loves it, ladies and gentleman, I present police brutality cases! Okay, so maybe the media really only cares about police on black police brutality, but all police brutality cases are equally terrible and take us one step closer to living in an autocratic police state. The first case I will be covering is the shooting of Michael Brown. For the unacquainted, the Michael Brown shooting took place August 9, 2014 at 12:01 PM in Ferguson Missouri, where white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot teenager Michael Brown. Here’s what happened: Brown had just robbed a store with his friend, Wilson was dispatched to stop them, Brown advanced on Wilson and attempted to seize Wilson’s gun, there was a struggle, Brown was injured by Wilson’s gun, started to run, then turned around and advanced on Wilson again, only to be shot fatally by Wilson. To make a long story short, a police officer shot an unarmed teenager for “approaching him threateningly”. (DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE REPORT REGARDING THE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION INTO THE SHOOTING DEATH OF MICHAEL BROWN BY FERGUSON, MISSOURI POLICE OFFICER DARREN WILSON, www.justice.gov) There was a whole lot of controversy, a bunch of protests both peaceful and violent, and this rumor that Brown had his hands up when Wilson shot him, which was proven to be not true, and a Department of Justice investigation. The main source of controversy, for me anyway, was the fact that Wilson got off scot-free. The duty of law enforcement is to preserve “life and property through the enforcement of laws and ordinances” (Duties & Responsibilities of Police Officers, brgov.com) In my opinion, the shooting of an unarmed teenager for “approaching you threateningly” is not preserving “life and property through the enforcement of laws and ordinances”, unless the policy of American law enforcement is to shoot first and ask questions later. The final case pertaining to this part of the essay is the shooting of David Kassick. Surprisingly, there is no wikipedia page dedicated to this case, which I find surprising, since this shooting is just as, if not worse than the Michael Brown shooting. This “police incident” occurred on February 12, 2015, where police officer Lisa Mearkle tased and then shot 59 year old David Kassick because he wasn’t showing his hands while several thousand volts from a taser was being sent into his body. Mearkle believed that he was reaching for a weapon, and so shot him in the back fatally. (Jury acquits Hummelstown police officer Lisa Mearkle of all charges, www.pennlive.com) She was charged, but acquitted of all charges. This is a perfect example of unfairness within our justice system. If a regular person did this, they would be convicted immediately, and sentenced to life or death row depending on where they committed the crime, but because she was “upholding the law”, she gets away without any repercussions. People should not be able to get away with this. This is a cold cut case of murder. Murderers should be punished to the full extent of the law, not a smack on the palm of their hand and a scolding. No none is above the law, but apparently, those that uphold it are.
The American court system is far from perfect. Thousands of people are incarcerated every year, and yet, murderers are let to go free. People get harsher or longer sentences based on their race, gender, and other factors. No one watches the watchmen, or if someone does, they make it so that the watchmen are above the law. But to be fair, law and justice has come a long way from the times when people would chuck criminals into lakes to see if they were innocent or not. It is a disappointing fact of life that our courts will never be completely fair. As Atticus Finch says, "I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty." (Lee 274) The only way for our courts to be completely fair is for the jury to be mistakeless, or perfect. The only way for the jury to be perfect is for the people that make them up to be perfect. Humans make mistakes, and because of that truth, it is physically impossible for are courts to be completely fair, and we must accept this as fact, no matter how disappointing it is.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee