“justice” v. “Justice”

The tragedy in El Paso, Texas on August 3, 2019 will never be forgotten.  Not by me nor by anyone else in this city.  Like traumatic events often do, it has left me retrospective, as well as introspective. After the national media and politicians stop talking about the massacre, we are left to ask why and where do we go from here.

I don’t pretend to have the answers to explain why our country and our people are so violent.  I do know that after more than five decade of living and over 25 years of practicing law that Americans are basically good people.  I have come to a conclusion, though, that one of our greatest weaknesses is that we seek “justice” with a lowercase “j” and not “Justice” with a capital “J.”  What does that mean?

Most people, and I must confess that includes myself, seek to protect the identities we have created for ourselves. We want what is right and just for our beliefs, our race, our religion, our tribe.   Somehow we have divided ourselves by saying were are pro-this or anti-that. We want our rights and free speech protected, but we are not willing to stand for the rights or free speech of others – particularly if we deem the “others” as a threat to our tribe or our beliefs.   Most whites and Hispanics do not care deeply about Black Lives Matters.  Most African Americans don’t care about “Dreamers,” deportations of undocumented immigrants, or Central Americans seeking asylum.   Christians aren’t particularly concerned about discrimination against Muslims.  Muslims aren’t vocal against anti-Semitism.  Atheists are unwilling to hear the concerns of Christians who feel their beliefs and rights are threatened.    This is “justice” with a lowercase “j.”

As an employment attorney I have represented a diverse group of clients.   A couple of years ago I represented Mark, an African-American man who alleged race discrimination in his termination.   The case was tried before an all Hispanic jury.  The evidence included the fact that my client was the only black working with an all Hispanic workforce for a company in El Paso, and that his supervisor would refer to him as a “mayate” (the Spanish equivalent for the “N” word).   Surprisingly the jury ruled against my client.  When I went back to speak to the jurors, I saw a lack of anger or even empathy towards what my client experienced.   I had to wonder if the outcome would have been different had I presented the exact same facts but my client was Hispanic and his supervisor a white man using words that were racially offensive about Hispanics.

It is human nature to want to belong to a group.   Race. Ethnicity. Gender.  Nationality.  Political affiliation. Religion. Sexual orientation.  Profession. College.  High school.   Whatever.   Tragedies like the one we had in El Paso, though, remind us of how similar we are and how these self-imposed labels only give us an excuse to lack empathy towards others who are not like us.   The next time I hear about the struggles of one group, or the discrimination against another, I will try to walk the proverbial mile in that person’s shoes.  Or at least a few steps.    I have seen us accept “justice” with a lowercase “j” for too many years, and it is killing us.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

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John Wenke is an Employment Law Attorney practicing in the area of employment discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation, and sexual harassment. Mr. Wenke represents employees in Texas and New Mexico, including but not limited to El Paso,  Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Pecos, Marfa, Alpine, Presidio, and Del Rio.