PERSPECTIVErnLand Without Justicernby Thomas FlemingrnEvery month, some corner of the United States becomesrnthe scene of a brutal and bizarre murder: in Jasper, Texas,rnwhere rednecks dragged a man to death behind their truck; inrnLas Vegas, where a high-school student assaulted and killed arnlittle gid as his friend and fellow student looked on without liftingrna finger to help; in Littleton, Colorado, where two highschoolrnstudents shot and killed a teacher and 12 classmates.rnFor all the hysteria over Kosovo, where 2,000 Serbs and Albaniansrnhad killed each other in the two years before the NATOrnassault, the real land without justice would seem to be the UnitedrnStates of America, where ethnic cleansing, mass murder,rnand a cynical contempt for human life are an everyday reality inrncities like Miami and Los /ngeles; and unlike Serbs and Albanians,rnwho retain a rudimentary sense of right and wrong (if onlyrnat the level of the blood feud), Americans do not even share arncommon conception of justice.rnIn the wake of every publicized murder or massacre, the inevitablernfutile controversy breaks out: Is violence caused byrnpoverty or a lack of counselors, as liberals believe, or by MarilynrnManson and video games, as conservatives like to pretend?rnWhatever the cause of the disease, each side has the cure —rnmore social programs, according to the Democrats; more prisons,rnaccording to the Republicans—and in the end each siderngets what it wants: more taxes spent both on Democratic socialrnworkers and on Republican cops and construction companies.rnIf the question of justice ever does come up, it is subject tornthe same distortions, from Democrats bleating about insanity,rnpoverty, and a history of abuse as the motivations for crime, andrnfrom Republicans braying over the social costs of drugs andrnstreet crime. The facts of the crime, the deeds that have beenrndone, get buried under the pile of position papers and specialrnreports, and justice is reduced to “whatever is in the interest ofrnthe stronger,” the cynical definition given by the apologists forrnnaked force whom Socrates attempted to refute.rnOnce upon a time, most ordinary people believed that justicernwas a straightforward matter of “rendering every man his due.”rnThe object of a trial, they thought, was to discover who owedrnwhat to whom, and when a crime had been committed, it wasrnthe business of judge and jury to ascertain the guilt or innocencernof the accused and, if the verdict was guilty, to mete outrnthe proper penalty.rnIn these enlightened times, however, retribution is regardedrnas barbaric, and most judges and lawyers put more weight onrnthe criminal’s motivation—excusing him if he is a victim, demonizingrnhim if he is a bigot—or on the social costs and consequencesrnof crime.rnA good example of the replacement of facts by motive andrnconsequence can be found in the response to the murder inrnJasper. When three white men killed a disabled black man,rnmuch of the public outcry was concerned first with the probablernracist motivation and second with the impact on the community.rnMuch was made of the killers’ affiliation with whiternsupremacist organizations, and one defense attorney, in response,rnargued that his client had only become a racist whilernserving time in prison and should not, as a result, receive therndeath penalty. Black residents of Jasper were interviewed onrntelevision and heard to say that they no longer believed that therncommunity was making racial progress, and far-right conservativesrnwrote editorials arguing that whites were being demonizedrnas racists even though blacks are more likely to kill whites thanrnvice versa.rnIn the course of this debate over intentions and social impact,rnthe simple fact of the case became blurred: Three grown menrnhad decided to torture and kill another man for no good reason.rnThe fact of willful murder, once established, should be sufficientrnboth for conviction and for the death penalty. Motivationrnand circumstance are only useful in mitigating a crime, as in arncase of self-defense or a “crime of passion.” But if a visitor fromrn10/CHRONICLESrnrnrn