The Consequences of Justice -- and of Injustice

“The failure to provide justice in not just an abstraction. It has serious consequences. Justice releases creativity, spurs us to action and generates harmony. Injustice causes anger and frustration. Injustice festers and rankles. It makes life intolerable and bereft of dignity. Injustice breeds violence, sows the seeds of rebellion.”
Sargent Shriver |September 27, 1972

Our Quote of the Week highlights the importance that Sargent Shriver placed on justice in our institutions. It also reveals the unique power that justice has in creating a stable and thriving society.

This week’s quote is from Sargent Shriver’s 1972 campaign speech, “Justice – A New Vision”. Shriver was the Vice Presidential candidate on the George McGovern ticket at the time.

Being an address for a presidential campaign, Shriver focuses on the sitting President at the time, Richard Nixon, whose illegal activities and injustices such as the race-based, brutal War on Drugs thrust the country into crisis. He then goes on to define his “expanding vision of justice”, tracing the need for justice throughout all of our institutions. He talks about “politicization of justice” such as the appointments of partisan, unqualified justices to the Supreme Court, and he stresses the fact that justice must be evenhanded and not cater to “special interests”. He lists many sources of injustice that were, and continue to be, corrosive – everything from the arrest of protesters, to the ignoring of voting rights, and even to the denial or undercutting of services for poor Americans from Legal Services to health care. He presses us to examine the causes of crime and speaks of “preventive crime” and to overhauling the criminal justice system, urging us to deal with poverty, streamlining the court system so that it can deliver “speedy justice”, and examining overcrowding in jails and prisons and recidivism. He states that it is the responsibility of our leaders, from the President of the United States on down, to protect justice within public functions at all levels. In Shriver’s words we hear the echoes of our own criticisms about injustice, from the actions of our Presidents to the politicization of the Supreme Court, to the urgent need for criminal justice reform and the expansion of benefits and support for our citizens, particularly those with the most pressing economic needs.

To be sure, today’s injustices have made many of us weary, untrusting, and cynical. Perhaps one way to ward off cynicism and despair about how very slowly the arc of history bends toward justice is to contemplate the positive message in Sargent Shriver’s words, that “justice releases creativity, spurs us to action and generates harmony”. In doing so, we also come to realize that we are surrounded by examples of the creativity, action, and harmony about which Sargent Shriver spoke. To name just a few, we have public servants like Vanita Gupta, Stacey Abrams, Mallory McMorrow, and Cori Bush; there are organizations such as the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign Zero, and the Equal Justice Initiative; countless journalists and scholars including Michelle Alexander, Isabelle Wilkerson, Heather McGhee, Ibram X. Kendi, and the team at The Marshall Project; and advocates like Catherine Colman-Flowers and Bryan Stevenson.

The fact is, there are legions of people across the country who are seeking and protecting justice at all levels in our communities. We must not let the frustration and despair at injustice defeat us. Let us take inspiration from the protectors of justice, past and present, and let us do what we can with the tools that we have to learn and to support the causes that mean most to us.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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