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A little sense of justice goes a long way

Last Monday, there was rock-throwing, burning, and looting. Friday, there was marching with activists, and later some dancing as well as some 12 O’Clock Boys jubilantly entertaining while demonstrators weaved down MLK.

When people feel that justice is being done; when they feel the law applies to people equally; when they feel there is a fair deal to be had, people can do a lot of incredible things as a community. That has been on display in Baltimore since Friday. When folks don’t feel that way, you get things like the events of last Monday.

I work as a public interest attorney. My clients cannot afford an attorney. Whatever may be the case, low-income people more often than not do not feel that there is justice, equality,or fairness in our system. We do not have to reach accord on the the causes of those sentiments, or even their merits. All we have to acknowledge is that those sentiments are a lot of people’s feelings, and those feelings are facts. Many were confronted with those facts for the first time last Monday night.

If anyone is looking for a rational reason why last Monday night happened, your efforts are better spent when you accept that there are many, many people who feel they reap no benefits of our system. Worse, there are some who feel that our system is built on their ruin.

But as displayed since Friday, even an incremental sense of justice, fairness and equality goes a long way in making a harmonious society. It’s not a lesson that Americans have learned well — we certainly messed up the first 80-some years, and we didn’t (and still haven’t) done much to make things better.

I am hopeful. Not because I have some notion that our institutions are going to reform overnight. I am hopeful because we have an opportunity to make institutions work in a new context. A context that acknowledges all of the facts.

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