Beyond Justice

Posted on June 23, 2021


Life in the Boomer Lane has known Heather for 60 years. They met on the first day of ninth grade, cemented a friendship that would last decades. It would take LBL too long to describe her. LBL will simply say that Heather flirted with the world. In the absence of people or animals, she would flirt with inanimate objects. The world was her audience. It’s not easy for someone who is well under five feet tall to take over a room. For Heather, there was nothing easier.

When everyone else LBL’s age was dutifully dating and marrying and producing offspring, Heather was travelling the world, returning with a ready supply of adventures. LBL, consumed by the endless minutia of demands that a growing family requires, kept only minimal track of world events. If it didn’t need a diaper changed or a belly to be filled, world events didn’t qualify for LBL’s attention.

Heather didn’t only collect adventures. She also collected an awareness of the inequities of the planet. Once she discovered them, she held on tight. She never put them into boxes, easily stored away when other matters were more pressing. Throughout the 80s, when LBL was raising her family, she railed against Reagan, the Contras of Nicaragua, the right wing death squads of El Salvador, the everyday atrocities being perpetrated against blacks and Latinos. She responded to LBL’s minimal awareness of current events with an endless supply of information, most of which was entirely new to LBL. LBL’s brain would momentarily fire at the injustices spewed in her direction. But, by the time she arrived home, one of the children invariably had done something that seemed more urgent than famine or genocide.

Throughout her life, Heather’s voice and her dramatic expressions were tailor-made for the stage, even if her stature was not. In the absence of Hollywood calling, she had identified another stage in which she could play to a rapt audience. While LBL and her other friends became teachers and social workers and nurses, Heather eventually became a trial attorney.

LBL doesn’t see Heather as much as she used to. A career, three children and seven grandchildren kept directing LBL’s attention elsewhere (although, to be fair to LBL, since the youngest child was potty-trained, her awareness of the world began to return). Now, after mostly everyone else she knows has retired, she knew Heather was still working.

Heather is a public defender. Years ago, LBL asked her how she could justify representing people who were obviously guilty. She said, “Because our legal system gives everyone the right to a fair trial.” LBL has never come to terms with that. She is happy that her own career was that of teacher and then Realtor. She doesn’t need to justify her belief that everyone does deserve to learn. And everyone deserves to buy or rent shelter.

Yesterday, LBL read a Huff Post piece about Heather. In her job, she was representing some of the people who had stormed the Capitol. She didn’t turn those people down (the right to a fair trial and all that). She did, however, give them an assignment. She had them watch or read films or books that dealt with injustice, the kinds of injustice that they normally downplayed or dismissed as fake. They watched “Just Mercy” or “Schlinder’s List” or “Mudbound” or “Burning Tulsa.” One defendant read “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” After reading or watching, they had to write reports to give to the judge.

The books and the films, have been, for many of these folks, a revelation. In at least one case, they have been life-altering. We all, no matter our political belief system, have, in this news-saturated world, the ability to hear only what aligns with what we already believe. To subject ourselves to anything else is simply too much work or worse, an indication that we have, perhaps, been told untruths about people and situations. The people who stormed the Capital on January 6 are no different. But, because of one attorney, they they have been provided with more than a required-by-the Constitution defense. They have been given the opportunity to see beyond the confines of their self-imposed intellectual quarantine. The law could have never imagined the greater possibility of “the right to a public trial, the right to a lawyer, the right to an impartial jury…” These people, thanks to Heather, have been given the right to knowledge and the right to engage in critical thought. That’s justice and then some.

Posted in: current events