For the law to work well, those underneath have to recognize it. Social order is stamped onto our DNA. Thus, when those who we entrust with regulatory power, when those who we trust to enforce the codes by which we live, violate our good faith, it shocks our conscience. It is like a hit in the gut. That is why the story of the year increasingly is about the restoration of justice.
With all the stories of corruption coming out of Washington, coming off the vestiges of police shootings of unarmed black men, and being faced with the cost of our broken immigration system this summer, we all have had the wind knocked out of us. The more technical term for what has happened is—there’s been, on mass, a violation of social order.
Think about it this way: Law spelled backwards is WAL[L]. Law is the world we occupy and the way we should occupy it.
Francis Fukuyama in Political Order and Political Decay writes, “Natural human sociability is built around two phenomena: kin selection and reciprocal altruism…Both behaviors are not learned but genetically coded and emerge spontaneously as individuals interact. Human beings, in other words, are social animals by nature” . So, in essence, we are made up of laws (or code we called DNA) that has within it a genetic marker toward lawfulness. We are made up of laws.
Thus, there can a be a physical and psychological wound created when there is a preponderance of injustice against our individual and collective body.
Peace is what justice serves—the balance within a particular social order. Is that saying peace is relative? Varies depending on social environment? In some ways, and in some ways not. It is incumbent upon any group of people that finds themselves together to find what the right balance of actions and inactions are to create what resonates, what feels—like peace.
Activists, in this country, have been part of a long history of social actors who seek to restore the balance of peace and justice after tragedy strikes or after a series of injustices go unanswered. Jay-Z and celebrities like him are one example of social actors responding to the call for justice. Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter has a long, and admittedly, complex history with justice and philanthropic work.
"The story of the year increasingly is about the restoration of justice."
In a New York Times piece on the recent Trayvon Martin documentary, Mr. Carter, its executive producer, responds to controversies about celebrity activism and him increasingly becoming public about the community work he’s been doing. “The constitution where I am from—from the streets of the Marcy Projects, it was a thing, where you would give someone something and never mention it…I’m there for you, you’re there for me” .
What Mr. Carter is signaling by the use of the term “constitution” is that his codex, an often not-mentioned rule, in Marcy Projects was—reciprocity. There was no written law needed for that. Transgressing it either wasn’t an option or regulated by the notion of “what goes around, comes around.” From that one could also extend a paying-it-forward mentality.
Jay-Z’s album Reasonable Doubt, could be argued as representative of the lengthy and complicated—yet eventually more responsible, relationship the rapper has had with justice. For example, while selling illicit substances to members of his community during the latter part of the crack epidemic, he was helping other members of his community rise. In his maturation, his means are more appropriately justified toward his ends.
The philanthropic arm of RocNation, the company that he founded in 1998, works “to advance social good globally and provide opportunities for vulnerable populations to succeed” through supporting the growth of its clients’ philanthropic efforts” . Jay-Z is using his management skills to assist the management of good.
Justice—whether it is “street justice” or the kind handed down from the (1999) Manhattan Criminal Court, is what Jay-Z in his life and in his work has come to symbolize. His commentary on the American dream and what it is supposed to represent is a commentary about the notion of “rightness” in this country.
“The middle class was allowed to thrive and there was steel in Indiana and the car jobs in Detroit and all these places where these factories were to provide a way for you to start somewhere in low income, get middle class and then maybe end up with the house of your dreams. This was the American dream and it was real. Then that America changed and no one addressed that” .
Public Enemy said that rap was the Black CNN. Jay-Z is showcasing the “reporterly” quality of rap. It’s genre of witnessing.
The Streets Is Watching, a documentary produced and featuring Mr. Carter, earlier this spring celebrated its 20th anniversary. In its title, it is showing a how witnessing is a counterbalance in the presence of injustices. Executive producing a documentary on Trayvon Martin featuring video and never-before-seen images for public consumption, in a way—is a rap song. It is a way to present the facts in a more complete and equitable light—for the court of public opinion.
Before the writing on the wall, the knowledge (the know-how) of justice was kept amongst the people, in their daily practice. Written laws emerged later not prior to many societies, well, most societies outside of Western Europe.
Fukuyama writes that in “shifting political organization away from family- and friends-based organizations to impersonal ones,” in places like China, Egypt and the Valley of Mexico (the Aztecs), written code began to emerge and regulate the new social relations that coalesced in bigger cities . Written record in smaller villages, was superfluous because families were already telling their family members what to do. With the separation of families, and the enlarging of city centers, the law got dispersed, and it was hard to collect the messages for how to be—within law and respective of the law.
Part of restoring American faith in the justice system is recognizing how the dream got dispersed, how our society started losing its way.
The American dream is an unwritten social compact that has brought millions to this shore. The message that the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort trials is sending—in a moment where faith in our governing institutions is waning—is that the Department of Justice, the Attorney General’s office is leading the charge, if Congress is delayed in acting, in reminding the people, that justice still rules the day.
Excerpt from transcript from Department of Justice (8/21/18) on Michael Cohen's guilty plea announcement: “Today’s guilty plea exemplifies IRS Special Agents' rigorous pursuit of tax evasion and sends the clear message that the tax laws apply to everybody. Mr. Cohen’s greed to hide his income from the IRS cheats all the honest taxpayers, and we should not expect law abiding citizens to foot the bill for those who circumvent the system to evade paying their fair share.”
(Source: DOJ U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York)