Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. — Martin Luther King, Jr., April 16, 1963
If you’ve never read King’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail, take the opportunity to do so now. He begins by noting that everything Hitler did was “legal” by German standards of the time. His letter goes on to argue the need to focus on justice rather than law and order, even when it means breaking the law.
One thing we can say about our system of law and order is that it rarely represents justice. The more cynical among us claim it doesn’t even aim to establish justice. Whether criminal or civil, the reality is that the courts work for people with money — lots of money — and against those without it.
The courts are about power. But power sometimes comes in the form of a sheer willingness to object, to fight back (albeit peacefully), to call for justice when all indications are that ears are closed. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of many we can thank for that lesson.
As we celebrate King’s birthday this week, let us all take that lesson to heart, and keep pushing for justice in the courts.
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