What Is Justice?


On December 13th, a list was released on Facebook that fractured an already tense student body. The list published the names of 33 “Men to Avoid” on campus next to their stated offenses. Upon reading the register, I could feel the pain and frustration of its author. This was the action of a person who was wounded, angry and fed up with a system that had failed them and many more like them. They decided to take justice into their own hands. This local event coincides with a national movement to embolden women to share their own experiences and, hopefully, to open up a dialogue on consent and power abuse that has been silenced for far too long. This campus is no different, because the procedures that are in place often fail women, even when they do speak up. I acknowledge these systemic problems, and as a straight, white man, I hope to be a part of the solution. However, unsubstantiated accusations are not the solution.

Accompanying the online post that was later distributed in poster form was a note from its author saying, “Feel free to dm me more names to add to this status because I could really give a f[—] about protecting the privacy of abusers.” So, the kangaroo court continued, and the list more than doubled in size from the original 16 names. This dangerous form of blacklisting is best depicted in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Miller uses cutting satire to criticize the fear mongering of McCarthyism and to illustrate the dangers of a witch hunt. As Miller’s protagonist, John Proctor, exclaims in frustration, “We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!” Now, as then, vengeance should not write the law.

Of course, there could be truth to all of the accusations leveled against these alleged offenders, but the problem is that no one can know for sure. There was no due process. If just one person on the list is innocent, that is one person too many being slandered by a carelessly executed crusade. Our justice system is frustratingly imperfect because it most heavily relies on habeas corpus, or body of the crime. Without substantial evidence that a crime has been committed, no one can be punished. This still applies to cases of sexual assault, where there is frequently little evidence and a great deal on the line. It becomes one person’s account versus another’s, and sadly, the guilty often go free. For the victim, justice has not been served, but no one is above the law; everyone is innocent until proven guilty. When someone is publicly accused in this fashion, without a trial or evidence to support the claim, that is libel, plain and simple. Libel can ruin people’s lives.

In this instance, public shaming is the dangerous weapon of vigilantism. It can quickly go too far, as when labels such as “serial rapist” share space with names that did not have any accusations attached to them. What would happen if one of the falsely accused could not handle the ostracism and took his own life? This is a tragic potential outcome that must not have occurred to the author, who would have to live with that blood on her hands.

By definition, terrorism is the use of intimidation tactics to achieve a financial, political, religious or ideological goal. Former Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, said, “There is no good terror and bad terror. Terror is terror.” The environment of hostility and fear that a list like this creates allows the seeds of distrust to spread, grow and tear us further apart. Fear alienates men who want to be allies. Fear ends the conversation. Fear is not justice – for anyone.