Monday, June 04, 2012

The Justice System Will Fail Us Over Eaton Centre Shooting

"Outrageous!" Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair declared the shooting Saturday evening.

We will get the perpetrator, Mayor Rob Ford vowed, holding back tears over the 13-year-old boy who was shot in the head.

Media interviewed witnesses, lots of witnesses, and even one shooting victim. They all expressed disbelief, outrage, trauma while we in the community tried to process it all, wondering what this means for our city. Various pundits opined, but it was the Chief and the Mayor who we wanted to hear from. And they did speak to us. (Later, shows like CBC's Metro Morning try to seek understanding of the roots and "usual" expressions of violence.)

And that's pretty much it for community involvement. A shocking, dreadful act of violence shatters the chatter and the shopping; the police and our politicians react immediately to calm the community, to empathize and express our outrage; and then the justice part takes over, shutting the community firmly out. We are heavily involved at the beginning -- from our city being so violated, our leaders understand that involvement and seek to reassure, but once the shooter is caught, then we are tossed out like inconvenient guests. Even the victims are barely part of the court process.

Back in the days of Garrow's Law (PBS), summary justice was enacted within one day while the public looked on and participated through their heckling or cries of sympathy. That wasn't good justice, but neither is our long-long-long drawn out "justice" system where even a guilty plea takes a year to get to the courts and more time for the pleader to receive sentencing.

In the case of this shooter, he'll maybe get bail -- but more likely not because his crime was done in such a public place. Any Justice of the Peace that lets him out on bail will receive a hell of a time from those who know him or her. But while the evidence grinds through the process, while lawyers and prosecutors argue over who gets to release what when, while they jockey in front of judges, while all in the justice system forbid expressed remorse/repentance from the shooter, and while the court leaves everyone on tenterhooks for months and months about just when the preliminary hearing will take place, never mind the trial itself, he will languish in jail. Not too bad, I bet you're thinking. Except we'll be languishing out here too in the community, wondering what happened, wondering what will happen. Why did that person do such a thing? Was the right person caught? Will they be found guilty and sentenced appropriately? Was that person a one-off, not reflective of the other gang nuts out there? Are we safe? For, of course, there will be a publication ban (as if any juror can remember anything read about a case four years earlier, beyond the basics that everyone will know anyway -- publication bans only made sense in a previous era when trials happened in a reasonable time), and we won't be allowed to know a thing for years and years and years in the name of "justice." The police might give us a few details upon arrest, and then everyone in the "justice" system will clam up, leaving the community wondering. Worse, it obstructs coming to remorse on the part of the shooter and healing on the part of the community and especially the wounded victims. And where there is that kind of wondering, that kind of obstruction, there is doubt in justice and fear over safety. Where is the justice for the community, to restore their sense of harmony with their city, to restore their sense of knowing where is safe and where is not?

The police and our politicians understand how the community is affected, understand that the community needs to be reassured and informed because to be informed is to reassure, to quiet fears and obliterate panic, to see that justice is occurring.

The justice system does neither. It is not outraged enough to see that as a failure and to reform itself. It fails the murdered, the shooter, the traumatized witnesses, and the community. It fails everyone.

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