Life + Culture

Injustice in the Ancient Era

Lady justice peaking from behind her blindfold
She's not blind,
but she is white

The following is adapted from an essay by Ashley Garcia, written as a sophomore at The Ohio State University. She reflects on the trials of the Apostle Paul and how it relates to our modern criminal justice system:

The law exists to keep people safe, to protect them from chaos and the degradation of society. When something arises to threaten this system, the offenders are tried in a court of law to decide their fate. However the courts are not always just. 
The book of Acts describes the unfortunate circumstances of the Apostle Paul, and his unjust imprisonment and treatment at the hands the people of Jerusalem. Ironically, the people who should have welcomed Paul’s message with open arms imprisoned him instead. Paul’s case is just one example exemplifying how corrupt and hypocritical the judicial system can become under immoral leadership. Although Paul was a Roman citizen and had full rights to a standard Roman trial, his case was full of illegalities that exuded injustice abundantly, including the lack of a formal presentation of the indictment, and the blatant absence of a randomly selected jury, who would have voted on Paul’s verdict. 
The Romans had set explicit laws in place to avoid injustices such as these, and yet injustice is not so easily removed. “The great question was not in regard to the law, but rather to the administering of the law which depended wholly on the character of the judges” (Roman Trials in Christ’s Day). In essence, one cannot have an uncorrupt system of justice if the leaders of the system are themselves corruptible. This horrid debacle of justice is unfortunately still rampant today. 
MLK in jail
Despite occurring several thousand years ago, Paul’s case is still relatable to more recent events. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, Martin Luther King addresses the main issue within any justice system, that those who are supposed to uphold the laws that form the basis for society, are the very ones who create the chaos of injustice. “But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation...certain promises were made…we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise…” 
These broken promises were political moves made by the leaders of the community, moves made not out of reverence for the law, but rather out of fear of losing their false sense of authority.  In a desperate attempt to cling to their tenuous hold on power, political figures are willing to do whatever it takes to keep the people complacent, all to assure their own livelihood.

Just as the political leaders during the Civil Rights Movement sought to appease the white majority in an effort to retain their positions, so too did Roman rulers seek to appease those who wished for Paul’s death by keeping him prisoner. These unethical leaders become so concerned with their fleeting, illusory command, that they forget why they were entrusted with these positions in the first place.  

Of course the fault cannot lie on the leaders alone, for it is ultimately the people who influence their leader’s decisions. Ideally, this picture of democracy is the basis of a reasonable justice system, but in reality it cannot be, for while the individual may be more prone to moral like mindedness, “groups are more immoral than individuals” (King). While this philosophy might come across as pessimistic, it has proven itself true countless times throughout history, including in Paul’s trial. “The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot.” (Acts 23:12-13). Individually, these forty men may not have conspired to murder an innocent man, but together the societal pressures encouraged nothing but unethical pursuits.

It is these types of immoral tendencies that create a populace “more devoted to order than to justice” (King). When justice is willingly sacrificed in exchange for a corrupt order, devoid of all integrity, claims of justice become nothing more than hollow promises.  Yet, even more horrifying than this abuse of power is the fact that these actions are commended by the people. Instead of calling for the upholding of the law, the people are satisfied in their corruption, mistakenly believing it to be true justice.  
When judicial standards fall so low that the acclamation of the oppressors and the degradation of the oppressed are deemed satisfactory, the system has failed in its duty to protect its citizens. Only when the abused are commended “…for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer, and their amazing disciple in the midst of the most inhuman provocation” can the presence of justice be truly known (King).
From the very moment Paul relinquished his wealth and status in becoming a follower of Christ, he was cast from social graces and viewed as inferior to those who once revered him. These people’s veneration rapidly degenerated into a condescending superiority as they became blinded by socioeconomic biases. This reversal of standards is a parallel to modern era white collar crimes which are not held in the same regard as “street crimes.” People of higher socioeconomic status tend to believe the laws do not apply to them because of their class, while those of lower status find themselves the objects of abuse and discrimination, much like Paul. How twisted a world, where felons are praised and innocent men are beaten and destroyed. How can there be any semblance of justice in a world such as this?
Apostle Paul being guarded in jail
This circumstance of corruption within the judicial system is not solely held within a specific region or time frame. As seen with the case of Paul, innocent men can be locked away without any probable cause thanks to fraudulent and shallow officials. The people who seek this kind of justice, like the crowd who planned to have Paul murdered, end up not seeking justice at all, but a crude imitation. 
Unfortunately, the law cannot always be counted upon to protect these victims, as the corruption of the judicial system depends not only on the laws to keep it functioning, but also on the morals of those entrusted to lead it. The law is only as virtuous as its enforcers. At what point does justice become personal vindication? The people are supposed to uphold the law, and in turn the law, theoretically, keeps society functioning smoothly. The law serves to protect the people, but who protects the people from the law?  

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