Vengeance Is Mine

The eyes of the entire country were fixed on the court clerk as she read the verdict in a stumbling voice. "We the jury . . . find the defendant, Orenthal James Simpson, not guilty." Reporters gasped. The sister of murder victim Ronald Goldman sobbed as the jury filed silently out of the courtroom. But juror Carrie Bess--a black woman--defiantly told her fellow jurors: "We've got to protect our own." That single comment, uttered by a participant in one of the trials of the century, illustrates perfectly why the law is in crisis today. Juries are refusing to convict even in the face of overwhelming evidence. They're substituting their own private judgments for the rule of the law. In another example, three Michigan juries have refused to convict Jack Kevorkian of helping someone commit suicide--even after Kevorkian admitted to the crimes. And Bronx juries today acquit almost half of all black defendants--no matter how strong the evidence. This is nearly three times the national acquittal rate. It's become clear that ordinary people who sit on juries are no longer willing to enforce the rule of law. The phrase "rule of law" simply means that we are governed by laws, not by human whim. No one is above the law, whether princes, presidents, or paupers. Through our democratic system, citizens agree upon ways to enforce the law. Courts and appointed officials are charged with preserving order and administering justice. But by refusing to convict lawbreakers, American citizens are undercutting the courts' function and hobbling our entire legal system. Why is this happening? Why are Americans losing respect for the rule of law? Western law traditionally reflected a shared idea of what is good and right--a moral consensus. But today, many Americans are convinced that the law is no longer impartial--that it has become a tool for people with clout. Ordinary citizens believe that the elites use the law to advance their own views. That's why it's no longer enough to tell juries "it's the law." Many Americans believe that the law isn't fair, that it doesn't reflect their values and beliefs. And so they refuse to enforce it. But the law is what makes it possible for us to live as a free people. To understand what happens when the rule of law breaks down, just look at countries like Somalia and Bosnia. Justice gives way to private revenge. Disputes are resolved by force, with no safeguards to protect the innocent. There are two sets of rules: one set for the people with guns, another for everyone else. In the next few pages I'll be exploring the crisis in the rule of law today. It's a difficult but dynamic topic, so I hope you'll keep reading. The rule of law is the only thing that stands between the land of the free . . . and the land of lawless vengeance.


Chuck Colson


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