I want to talk about justice.
And no, I do not feel a sense of justice awaiting another snow storm. It’s fucking March now and I need Spring to get. it. together. My cat is five pounds and hasn’t gotten off the heater in three months. I’m going to come home one day and find her eyeballs dried to her skull. Though to be fair, that would be cool in a let’s-turn-her-into-jewelry-and-wear-her-forever kind of way. (For a jewelry line I’m creating called meow-ery: the jewelry alternative to traditional cat burial.)
I have a very deep relationship with my cat, okay? I’m never letting her go.
Which brings me back to JUSTICE and our relationship with it. It is equally laborious and potentially icky, though regrettably lacking in opportunity for the coordination of glitter and teeth.
I originally starting out writing this post before the Ferguson Report was released but, like all things I attempt to do, it has taken twice as long as originally intended. Now that the report is out, it’s even clearer that justice is a many-layered and complicated thing. I haven’t read the report yet (it’s open on my desktop for when I’m finished writing this post) so I’m hesitant to even say anything about it at all, but it does definitely contribute to the idea I’m having which is that justice is… confusing.
It seems that with each passing year/month/week/day, we have a new issue on our hands. It’s something like Ferguson – a cop killing an unarmed, black teen – or something stranger and less well-known. This isn’t to say our justice system is a complete failure and waste of time. Though I agree with much of the ideology of libertarianism, I can’t subscribe to the idea of its practical application of no government and no police (and many other weird things that only work inside a libertarian’s head. Except for maybe the green party… can someone explain the green party to me? Because I think I’d like it). I think that we have come a long way as a society in the prosecution of rapists and child molesters, equality activism, and general safe-keeping of our towns and people. But still… things go wrong.
Which brings to me the original reason I wanted to write about justice… Blake Layman.
This case isn’t exactly new but it is to me. In 2012, Blake was sixteen years old. He was doing pretty well in school, had a new girlfriend, felt like it was finally falling together. Blake has talked about the day it all happened. He felt great, cocky, maybe, and inside of his life.
You know what it’s like. Sixteen feels like a long drive at night; all lights and wind. Unless you were like me. Sixteen felt like braces and a staggering realization that I had no idea how to make out with anyone. (Don’t worry guys, I learned. The key is to make sure you use a lot of teeth and keep your lips really, really dry. If you need any other tips, feel free to ask.)
Regardless of what Blake felt, he made a really dumb decision. While he sat with friends this day after school, bored and lamenting their common lack of income, they decided to rob a neighbor’s house. They called some more friends over and, after thoroughly checking to make sure the house was empty, entered. They made a lot of noise and – turns out – weren’t alone. The homeowner was there and, fearing intruders, ran downstairs shooting, gun in hand. Blake ran into a closet and watched as his friend collapsed next to him, bleeding from a gun shot wound. Blake was shot as well. He was lucky and survived. His friend died.
And then, because this is how our justice system works, Blake was charged with felony murder.
Indiana is one of many states that prosecutes an individual with the injuries incurred while committing a felony. Because entering someone’s house and robbing it is a felony (and a violent one at that), Blake is legally responsible for the death of his friend. Even though he didn’t shoot the gun.
When I think about it logically, I can understand why this law would make sense; the injury would not have occurred had Blake not been illegally entering the house.
But when I read about this I was reminded of a story that my Human Behavior professor told on my first day of class with her in 2012. It’s the same year as the case and I keep trying to come up with some artsy way of saying WHAT A COINCIDENCE without seeming like a fucking asshole but I can’t, so… there you go.
I’m going to talk about two women.
There is a woman. She lives on Staten Island. She works very hard, has two very young children, and supports them herself. She has no husband and no one to help her out except a kind babysitter. Every night, the woman takes the ferry into the city to work her night-shift job. She is sure to catch the 5am ferry back home every morning because her babysitter has to leave the house by 6am on the dot, no matter what. One evening, while leaving work, she realizes she’s lost her wallet. She needs money to get the ferry because the babysitter has to leave and her two kids will be left alone. She goes to her job and asks for an advance in her paycheck in order to get on the ferry. Her boss says that he can’t do that. She goes to her previous place of employment and asks for money with the promise of returning it and again she is turned down. She goes to the ferry director and begs him to let her on. After all, he sees her every day. He also says no. She decides she has to walk the long bridge home (this bridge is fake but let’s go with it). As she’s walking home in the dark morning, a scary bridge man (I think that’s what my teacher called him) comes out of the shadows. She is scared. They struggle and he kills her. Who is responsible for her death? The first boss, second boss, ferry director, scary bridge man, or the woman?
There is a woman. She lives on Staten Island. She has no kids and is married to a very honest, hardworking man. Every night he leaves to work his second shift of the day in order to support her. She thanks him by taking the ferry into the city and sleeping with different men. She is sure to take the 5am ferry every morning so that she can be home before he arrives at 6am. One evening, when leaving her current lover’s house, the woman realizes she’s lost her wallet. She is desperate to get on the ferry and make it home before her husband. She has just broken things off with her current lover, having gotten bored with him. She returns to his place and he refuses to give her any money, claiming she has broken his heart. She wanders to her previous lover’s house and knocks on his door. He also refuses her, for she broke his heart as well. She goes the ferry director and pleads her case. He also turns her down. So she decides she must walk the bridge. While on the bridge, she meets a scary bridge man. She is scared. They struggle and he kills her. Who is responsible for her death? The first boss, second boss, ferry director, scary bridge man, or the woman?
I hope you stayed with me through all of that… I know it was a lot. But I like these stories because people tend to answer the questions differently in each story and different than each other. For me, I blamed the ferry director in the first story and the scary bridge man in the second. Why? Because the ferry director knew that woman and she was so sweet! It was totally his fault!
Unsurprisingly, a lot of people thought the woman from the second story was responsible for her death, whereas the woman from the first story was innocent. Why? Because the woman wouldn’t have been in that situation if she hadn’t been cheating on his husband, whereas the woman in the first story had no other choice. We tend to attach blame, worth, and morals to crimes and to victims.
I bring this story up because, regardless of our feelings about who the woman was in each story, we must always remember not to blame people for the crimes they did not commit.
The scary bridge man killed her. Say what you want about each woman, about the people who could have helped her, but none of them attacked her on the bridge. Each woman, despite their reasoning, just wanted to get home.
Even cheaters deserve a ferry ride. (Except anyone who’s ever cheated on me. I’m the danger. I am the scary bridge man.)
In the case of Blake Layman, he did not shoot the gun. The homeowner believed he was defending his home from intruders, I’m not suggesting he needs to be charged with murder either but he did pull the trigger. He was not intending to kill anyone but neither was the person charged, as evidenced by his lack of gun shooting.
And now Blake Layman is serving 55 years for felony murder.
Who is responsible for the death?
There are a lot of laws that don’t make any sense and I think I forget that I’m electing the people who make the laws. Everything feels so distant from me, once I cast a vote. It’s like I voted for a fantasy and I got a weird bootleg fairy tale instead. I wanted the princess and the pea and I got the canadian and the slop bucket. Or… something.
I’m a mental health professional in a jail so I have a lot of feelings about the justice system and laws that don’t work. I could literally talk about this for another fourteen paragraphs. Women are increasingly put in jail because they are victims of domestic abuse and, in turn, are seen as endangering their children. Who is responsible for that endangerment? A man is selling loose cigarettes on the street and a cop strangles him to death. Is the man responsible, because he was doing an illegal thing? Is selling a loose cigarette punishable by death?
Is a sixteen-year-old’s boredom punishable by a 55-year felony murder sentence? If that doesn’t seem right to you, check out this petition to ban the felony murder charge in Indiana. I can understand if you don’t, it’s an awkward case. What if someone was robbing you? What if you shot them? Is it your fault or theirs? But if you are a little uncomfortable with a sixteen-year-old spending the majority of the rest of his life in prison for a murder he did not commit, you have the power to at least add your name to a list of discontent and concern.