“I care about Justice.” “Social Justice is important to me.” “We need to fight for justice.” Justice is a word that we throw around a lot. A word that we hear in our culture often to describe our social bent and often to make ourselves look socially relevant or to try to prove to others that we aren’t selfish or racist or intolerant. But justice is so much more than a social phrase or a cause or act of awareness.
Justice is the very thing that determines the trajectory of our lives and lives of others around us. And justice is easy to agree with and to promote when it is affecting us positively or when it allows us to point out the flaws of another. But, justice is hard to swallow when we are on the receiving end of a hard outcome. I have been living in the world of child welfare for a few years now, and I can’t tell you the amount of times, I have said things like, “well, that is unjust,” or “I want justice in this case.” And sure, the juvenile court system is hard and frustrating, but can I really say that it was the court system itself that was so unjust? In searching for this answer, among many others, I have had to take a step back and evaluate.
Justice itself is honesty, truth, fairness, and rightness. But, I have also learned that justice is not created or destroyed by the laws that govern it, but rather by those writing, implementing, and interpreting that law. Systems themselves are not flawed, because protocol and procedures can’t carry character like those that implement them can. However, I find that it is easier to blame the system, a party or a group, instead of identifying my personal role in that justice and the roles others play as well.
Doesn’t it seem crazy that a young boy at 14 years old would be brought into the courtroom in shackles for shoplifting (unarmed), be called a delinquent as an excuse for his behavior, and then hear his own mother say she didn’t want him and didn’t care what happened to him? … he was escorted back out of the courtroom to return to jail and wait until someone figured out what to do with him at the Department of Family and Children Services. Doesn’t it seem crazy that the average stay for a child in foster care is 4 years, yet, often services aren’t put in place to help parents or children until they have been in care for 2 years? None of these things seem fair or right. But, there are laws that we use to “Cover our Butts” from lawsuits, and we rely on these laws instead of valuing people. Injustice to put it simply, is when one person’s life is valued over another. And that is never ok.
Adults are not more important than children. The rich are not more important than the poor. One race is not more important than another. And bad choices may define your consequences, but they should never define your value. So, do we really want justice? Are we serious when we say this? Because if we do, then that means that we want right consequences, while still giving equal value to each person. That means we have to change our perception of justice being “getting our own way,” to fighting for everyone to equally get what is best for them as a person. Children in foster care should have justice, which is the right to a loving family, to stability, to education, to doctors, and to safety. But, their biological parents should have justice too, which is their right to good rehab and treatment plans, good doctors, education and medications, jobs, and housing. Bringing big fancy houses and apartments and businesses and shopping to an area is wonderful, but not when it is at the expense of another. Anything that values one over another and pushes out those without resource, merely because of their lack, is unjust. So, if we truly want to see justice, we need to start with ourselves first, and question how we see the world and the privileges we enjoy daily.
-Chelsea Sabo, Founder of