Jury!

In yet another Facebook conservation, someone suggested anarchists try to serve on Juries as a way to sabotage the justice system. Fortunately, that’s not a plan that could be very actively pursued by anyone. But possibility is still worth, uh, playing with.

The background information on jury duty is that most would-be jurors don’t server on juries at all or serve on civil trials where usually both sides are (small or large) property owners try to get some money out of each other. To get to a part of the justice process where their judgment mattered, a hoping-to-do-good-anarchist would have to actively lie and still be quite lucky. The jury’s decision could be overturned later by your lying and the rest of the jury might not even have much influence since most of the other jurors will be truth-telling, law-abiding citizen-moron and so would doggedly follow the logic of law-abiding morons. If one jury member is, like suddenly “oh he’s not guilty despite the clear evidence”, everyone becomes suspicious.

But it gets worse. A lot defendants are “guilty” and aren’t the nice people that anarchists might imagine as the downtrodden.  Suppose after a few days of clever of deception, you find yourself on a jury trying a person of color accused of killing his domestic partner (or –  admittedly less likely –  a white woman who shot a black man she thought was trying to break into her house)? The arguments don’t hinge on whether he did it but how responsible he is for his actions given XYZ supposed mitigating factors. In situations like this, some portion of anarcho-scenesters will back-pedal or want to concoct equivalents scenes like “we hate the justice system so we’ll act exactly like it by jumping this bad guy with baseball bats”. Yes, you will have spent a lot of effort to be confronted with a situation too big for a “guilty” or “no guilty” decision to solve. Even if you have the admirable position that everyone should get out, you may find your anarchists comrades start thinking about “oppression” when they hear your story.

The “justice system” is a really vile, totalitarian structure where the-cost-benefits-of-fighting, justice and democracy all intersect. Cop and social workers take over the violent and the manipulative aspects, respectively, of the nuclear family. Of course, nearly everyone’s acceptance of law, justice, property and democracy means that interrupting the process as an individual jury-member or even a judge would be extraordinarily difficult because so much proceeds on-rails.

The problem is there are no easy small-scale solutions to a lot of problems people face, which is why the end of the entire system is needed. A guy who steals his mother’s car to be with the gang? A woman who kills another woman who’s “cheating” with her man? Oppressor or oppressed?  Etc, etc. With all its horrors, the “justice system” is logical given the assumption that capitalist relations as a whole will continue. With no options and no reason to expect that a given anomaly will change, the justice system carves off problems with a dull blade. Yet even the crude, partial reliance on evidence here looks good if we jump back to moral panics in leftist or other subcultures seeking to root out their “evil doers”. A slight local maxima on broad global minima.

Much of the active, visible  “evil” of life today really comes from individuals. The system’s overall evil is more of a blunt instrument wearing everyone down, leaving a huge number of people greedy, angry, ignorant and fearful – ready to be “oppressors” but effectively powerless in the overall scheme of things. And btw, this is one more reason talking in terms of  “systems of oppression” is a less than helpful. Capitalist relations just aren’t the sharp oppressions, in the sense of the raw bad behaviors, that people experience. Capitalist relations are fabric of control, the situation of wage labor, of nearly everyone being simply a resource to be used according to cost-benefit terms. And certainly, sending someone to prison for twenty years might be a poor cost-benefit calculation for their worth yes. But not bothering to investigate further,  might save the head bureaucrat money. Anyway, in the end we are concerned with ending the machine, not ending the waste within the machine.

So on a wider note, aside from the jury question, this post was certainly provoked by various schemes for facilitating justice which I have seen come out of various anarchist scenes. Altogether, my take would be that we shouldn’t expect a cohesive alternative to capitalist justice until we in the midst of creating our own community. But enforcement schemes within a subculture aren’t surprising either given that all the subcultures are … part of capitalist society.

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