Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Who Needs Moral High Ground?

From Alternet: The Whole (Jena 6) Story?:

You can't claim the moral high ground in the struggle for racial justice with a beat-up white kid at the bottom of the pile.

This statement about the Jena 6 protests is dead wrong but it raises an important topic. First, it isn't and shouldn't be about who has moral high ground since that allows injustice to stand unopposed as long as the person or group treated unjustly can be denied moral high ground. This is where "Thug," "Slut" and other slurs come in handy for those who don't want that person or people to get equitable treatment in the criminal justice system.

Using this argument means that those who are fighting to clear the name of those they believe to be falsely convicted of real rapes and/or murders should be left to the system because there is a raped woman or a murdered child at the bottom of the pile. Those who are the focus of these efforts are sometimes really guilty and sometimes are a serious danger to society. These people as a group can't claim the moral high ground but they still deserve just treatment.

This use of moral high ground allows injustice to stand unopposed when those who are getting better treatment than they should or those who are facilitating injustice don't own the moral low ground or falsely claim moral high ground. This is where "nice young man who just made a bad choice" and other descriptors with built-in excuses come in handy.

Those who are being systematically shafted by the legal system are much less likely to be seen as having an attitude of gratitude which makes them less sympathetic and seen as on lower moral ground. This reinforces slurs such as thug which in turn can help justify giving the maximum penalty.

Ironically, those who get systemic favorable treatment frequently position themselves as martyrs and use the "thugs" to make them look better than they are and to bemoan the unfair treatment they are subjected to. When this con game works, it can lead to changes which increase the systematic injustices.

The situation in Jena, Louisiana isn't just about the Jena 6, it is about a systemic problem. Those who benefit from this systemic problem need to obscure this fact and they need to position the defendants as thugs who are as good as convicted while positioning the alleged victim as the opposite of thug. Many of these people will do what they can to disconnect this alleged crime from anything that happened before.

Doing this is as deceptive as looking to see whether a pair of dice are weighted by only judging one roll which results in snake eyes. "Hey, it could be a random result. No need to look at any other rolls of these dice."

This way of thinking about injustice demands melodrama before changes can be made. Often the melodrama is over an exception to the way the system normally works or it's an intentional distortion of reality. The result is often more injustice not less. One way to recognize this is to look at the date of the previous example in the pattern. Another way is to look at studies which compare surveys of illegal drug use to drug convictions or to compare samples from waste water which can determine drug usage to drug convictions.

This idea of needing to claim high moral ground is what allows people to excuse most rapes since 99% of victims don't meet the artificial purity standard where the victim is a virgin, looks like a virgin, but not a tempting virgin, is nabbed in a parking lot of a hospital where she helped the dying, so on and so forth. Without the moral high ground, she was asking for it. And of course, rapists will attempt to place themselves on high moral ground.

If certain classes of people who are regularly convicted of child rape start getting the death penalty while others who commit the same acts are regularly convicted of no crime, that is unjust. Sometimes injustice is getting a better outcome than a person or group deserves.

With the racial imbalance in our prison system that can be shown to be out of balance with the crimes committed, a lot of free white men and women have been subjected to injustice. Bet they're not rushing to set things right.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:45 AM   1 comments links to this post


At September 25, 2007 6:58 PM, Anonymous dsf said...

This morning on NPR online: More Facts About the Jena 6 Case


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