Measures for Justice is a Rochester-based nonprofit creating measures to address criminal justice reform in communities. Admirable. They recognize communities’ inability to adequately self-reflect. They try to be non-partisan — by that they mean they suggest no policy, and they identify no individuals whose behavior is reprehensible, or even criminal.
Justice is a simple word. It is not a simple act.
Non-partisanism means nothing. It’s a surrender to the status quo, an admission that you’re unwilling to sacrifice in order to improve patterns of inequality and wrong. It relies on the misunderstanding that people are capable of acting in pure goodwill, and that it’s worth working with everyone out of an expectation of “fairness.”
If I say All Cops Are Bastards, you might scream, “No! That isn’t fair. That isn’t just, to condemn one because of the actions of others. They’re good people, with just a few bad apples.”
You could say one bad apple spoils the bunch if it weren’t so horribly cliché, and if it weren’t so wrong.
Because cops aren’t apples. Apples don’t reinforce the institutions that make life hell.
To be a part of an institution is a choice, a choice to prolong it, to allow its hold to tighten around the spirit of the citizen who never consented to its creation. There is no “changing it from the inside.”
There are no good apples. There is only the persistence of the institution and those who dare to confront it.
For everyone, there’s a self-truth, a framework to their lives, that they’re too cowardly to fight. Our self-interest binds us to a group, chains our minds to dogma. We internalize expectations of how the world should work, and recoil when that’s challenged. We act a certain way because that’s just how things are done. That’s what’s proper.
For that, we all are the bastards.
By “institutions” I don’t only mean formal institutions like the police force, government, or laws that are always in focus. I mean the structure behind your behavior, your disposition, your attitudes towards other people and concepts. Concepts like justice.
It’s so easy to forget where privilege comes from. It’s easy to forget the self-interest that leads us to lie passively with institutions. That’s why it’s so easy to forget the alienation that permeates societies. Humanity suffers for that stagnation and the lives we live because of it.
Measures for Justice is a tool. Tools accomplish nothing without the will to use them. That will doesn’t just emerge. It doesn’t just arrive because Black men and women are murdered in their homes and on the streets, it doesn’t appear because of the genocide of Indigenous peoples. It isn’t the product of city councillors doing their job.
That will is the result of the painful realization that things are wrong in the world, and then the decision to act on them. The will to fight comes only from confronting the fact that everything you’ve lived for, everything you were raised on, is intertwined with injustice.
No, tools are not enough. Support is not enough. Words are not enough.
Frankly, I haven’t had that necessary courage. Few have. It’s isolating, standing as an individual against a group. But the willingness to stand alone is what separates you from the “bad apples.”
What we need isn’t tools, or change from within, or the slow chipping away at the vast inequalities that structure all human relationships. We need those willing to stand alone, together.