Now, maybe it’s because I’m Jewish. However, to me, one of the most impressive miracles that Jesus never gets credit for is the fact that in his early thirties, Jesus had twelve close friends.
For most of us, by the time we reach the “Big-Three-O,” we're likely to have a slew of co-workers and acquaintances. Meanwhile, we’ll be lucky to have more than two, good, close friends.
It isn’t that we grow more antisocial with age. Instead, when most of us get past our formative and secondary educational years, things like keg parties and guys/girls nights out take a back seat to the conformity of conventional adulthood. Between juggling professional careers and family lives; chumming it up with a motley band of comrades while embarking on misadventures, is primarily reduced to the mythos of cinematic folklore. Outside of our immediate family – spouses or kids, where applicable – most of our adult relationships end up springing forth from the professional roles we take on.
As it is, law enforcement is one of those close-knit vocations that’s frequently referred to by terms like, “brotherhood,” or “family.” As you might expect, having spent the last fifteen years – since the tender age of 21- as a cop; the bulk of my acquaintances, friends, and associates have been cops. However, now, given my recent career transition, I suddenly find myself facing a new paradox from the enter-tangled web of life’s maturation process.
What happens to all of those professionally related friends, associates, and acquaintances when we no longer share the same occupational link?
As the news spread that I'd decided to hang up the badge and go to work for a private law firm, the responses of my friends, acquaintances, and associates ended up being an impressive mixed bag of emotions. For the people closest to me – the friends or officers I’d worked alongside over the years- the reaction was overwhelming congratulatory and filled with well-wishes.
For others, on the peripheral - the associates and acquaintances- to varying degrees, the responses were analogous to watching Anakin Skywalker emerge from the infernal depths as the infamous Darth Vader. Some even went as far as issuing a contemporary social equivalent to the declaration of un-friendship. They unfriended me on Facebook.
In all fairness to those whose reactions were shock, surprise, or disdain; my new employer is well known for aggressively fighting against civil rights abuses, corruption, inequality, and racism. More bluntly, in the Savannah area, The Claiborne Firm is known for fearlessly taking on institutions of authority; which yes, at times includes the police.
Now, I don’t fault those who consider my leap from police officer to, investigator and full-time civil rights advocate, to be synonymous with unsheathing a red-light saber while donning a black cloak, mask, and breathing apparatus. In the end, the naysayer’s perceptions have less to do with me personally and instead, the reactions provide an intriguing insight into how the American collective conscience views justice. So fascinating, in fact, I found myself far more captivated at understanding the broader social perceptions, than I ever felt concerned with personally directed points of view.
Look, I was a cop for a decade and a half. Full disclosure, the idea that the “dark side” lurks within the judicial halls of the criminal justice system- particularly the sinister lairs of criminal defense attorneys- is not something I've never heard before. Though, interestingly, when it comes to the American judicial system; the idea of the criminal defense attorney as the “dark side” or “devil” is undeniably erroneous for one remarkably ironic reason.
In the Hebrew Bible; a story appears of Balaam, a non-Israelite diviner, who finds himself being confronted by an Angel of the Lord (Numbers 22). At one point, the biblical record states, “And God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the Lord placed himself in the way for an adversary against him.” (Numbers 22.22). What makes this particular line intriguing, is it's the first time the Hebrew word often translated to English as "adversary" appears.
What, you ask, is that Hebrew word?
That’s right. A lot of people might be surprised to discover that the Hebrew translation of “Satan” isn’t the devil or morality’s eternal antagonist. Instead, more accurately defined than “accuser,” in Hebrew, the word Satan references a “prosecutor.”
The paradoxical comedy of errors in associating defense attorneys, whether it be criminal, civil rights, or tortious, with the “devil” or “dark side,” is the etymology of arguably the most recognizable name for the dark prince means the exact opposite. It means the accuser, the plaintiff, or the prosecutor. Not the accused, defendant, or defense.
Theological irony aside, there is also another significant reason why only viewing the “offense” as the good guys is a fallacy.
Though not nearly as pop-culture sexy as the First or Second, the Sixth Amendment to the constitution is every bit as important to the representative democratic fabric of the United States as any of the Bill of Rights. In fact, arguably, the Sixth Amendment may be the most significant constitutional right of them all. Among other things, this the amendment that upholds and determines how all constitutional laws are interpreted, evolved, or established. It is the amendment that affirms the constitutional republic’s institution of adversarial justice.
At its fundamental level, an adversarial system of justice is established on the belief that impartial righteousness is born through the struggles of duality. It is a system that says truth and justice can only truly be forged on the battlefield between two opposing sides.
The idea that justice emerges from the struggles of adversarial conflict isn’t merely an idealistic notion concocted in the pragmatic minds of legal scholars. Rather, adversarial justice represents the pursuit of righteous morality by merely following the natural order of the universe.
In physics, the universe is born through the cataclysmic explosion of the Big Bang. In religion, the entire human experience as we know it is a consequence of conflicted temptation and exile. In biology, life appears in the melee of fertilization and the tribulations of the birthing process. What defines the fictional epics of a culture is rooted in the heroic struggles of opposing forces and contradictory emotions. Even the basis of our recreational activities and athletics is set on the battle between opposing forces.
I could keep going on with more examples. However, the bottom line is, every objective truth in the known universe is a product of oppositional forces at conflict. Which then begs the question - How could we imagine that unsullied justice wouldn’t be formulated through the struggles of an adversarial system?
Most of us grow up in cultures that cause us to believe the world can be separated between heroes and villains. Yet, in reality there is no such thing. Instead, each of us represent anti-heroes. Emotionally fallible human beings capable of doing great or heroic deeds. Equally, we all have the potential to engage in harmful, and even wicked behaviors.
In truth, the real conflict between good and evil doesn’t exist in the space between the prosecution and defense tables of a courtroom. No… whether we realize it or not, the real battles between light and darkness… rages within us all.
When it comes to our view of the justice system, our propensity to classify “good guys” and “bad guys,” causes our lower order, rationale minds to make the obviously logical decision. The person at the defense table is accused of committing a crime. The guy at the prosecution table represents the dispenser of justice. Clearly, determining who's good and bad in this instance should be a no-brainer, right?
Alas, there are a few problems with this seemingly simple decision of moral classification.
For starters, indeed, you often may have someone whose done something “bad” sitting at a defense table. Conversely, a “good guy” may typically be perched on the side of the prosecution. However, each of these single isolated instances you can imagine, are actually not representative of the justice system. Instead, these are merely minuscule pieces of a much larger intangible institution. What’s so easily overlooked because it exists on such a broader macro level, is that the justice system is never any of the pieces within it. It’s the entire totality of the organization.
The next problem with universally attributing the placement of heroes and villains in the justice system, is this requires the assumption of blame and blamelessness through the virtue of titles alone. However, not only is justice not omnipotent; at its most desired state, justice is supposed to be blind.
Blind to the fact that at the onset, bad guys and good guys can, and have, sat at the tables of accused and the accuser. Even further complicating the issue; sometimes both sides can be share the roles of being morally “good” or “bad” simultaneously.
In an idealistic state, the sides of the accused and the accuser start out categorically equal. It is only from the smoldering ashes of the legal battlefield, after the struggle is over, is legitimate justice supposed crown the titles of “good” or “bad.”
Another very important reason that neither good guys or bad guys statically sit in neat little tables to each other’s right and left, is this would mean that laws themselves are always irrefutably righteous. Objectively, this cannot be true, because, take, for example, one of the most morally repugnant acts imaginable, human slavery; at one time this was the law of the land.
Indeed, even that which society may now see as being self-evidently immoral; through social evolution, may in time, become existentially inconsequential. Or, as is the case of America’s nefarious history of human slavery; a society may also experience a sudden ethical awakening and discover it is obedience to a law that’s egregious. In response, the law itself, must now be thrown into the confines of criminality.
Unfortunately, even in the most clarion of ethical callings or the most repugnant of human actions; stripping the title of lawful and admonishing a regulation to the land of illegal, like a phoenix, is something that can only emerge from the ashes of combat.
Full disclosure, the idea that leaving policing to pursue a career defending civil rights is somehow “going to the dark side,” is something my lizard brain silently takes perverse delight in. Let’s be honest, kids don’t dress up and pretend to be Luke Skywalker. They swing on a black cape and speak with the deep raspy draw of Darth Vader.
There’s a certain exotic sexiness to the dark side. F*** cavities! On the dark side we’ve got candy because it tastes good.
However, from the catacombs of my mind’s moral majority, I realize I haven’t gone to the dark side; because when it comes to justice, there is no inherent dark side. Instead, it is the actions and resolutions achieved through the conflict of duality that determines luminance.
The belief that leaving policing and “going to the other side,’ is a betrayal or social treason, is a flawed cultural view. Justice is not a unicellular organism. Justice, like everything else in our material existence, is born through a precarious struggle between opposing, and mutually dependent forces. To take one side out of this equation, or assign prestige to one over the other, is how injustice is born. Equally it is one of the most recognizable characteristics of tyrannical governance.
Of course, everyone -former co-workers, associate, acquaintance, or the average stranger on the street – is entitled to their personal view. That again is one of the beautiful attributes of representative freedom. Each of us is afforded the right to engage our lives as superficially or sophisticated as we’d like. However, for me, I don’t have any sense of self-loathing over the professional travels of my life. Not, because I am comfortable with being the “devil’s advocate.” Rather, because, to me, what I now chase is no different than what I sought for fifteen years as a cop. The “titles” or “sides” might seem different, but in the end, I’m still in pursuit of righteousness.
Ultimately, maybe my failure to see any transition to the dark side comes from the fact that I have a healthy amount of respect and faith in righteousness.
Righteousness is morality beyond reproach; it is a virtuous objective truth that doesn’t care or need anyone’s opinion for veracity. Most importantly of all, true righteousness isn’t scared of a fight; because righteousness is a confident, undefeatable force, that says, “Bring it the f*** on.”
In conclusion, there is also one other significant reason why having an accused and accuser is a necessity for impartial justice.
Once Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, he’d commit a multitude of evil acts that would shatter his connections to his previous life and the light. However, at the very end, Darth Vader, sacrificed his life to save his son, Luke Skywalker and killed the Emperor.
With Darth Vader’s final actions, it raises the question of how we should view each other as human beings. Do we judge the character of people solely by the actions of their past? Do we consider the influences that might have led a person to the dark side? In addition, should we consider what each person has the potential to do in the future?
Clearly, all actions should and do have consequences. However, shouldn’t we desire to eventually reach a positive outcome?
For the overwhelming majority, Darth Vader was the dark side; his son Luke personified the light. Yet, at the very end, if it hadn’t been for Darth Vader’s darkness, Luke’s light would have been extinguished. Two opposing forces, married in a complex web of necessity. Without one or the other, righteousness might not have ever been the prevailing outcome.
From a philosophical perspective, this makes me wonder, was Darth Vader actually a “bad guy?” Clearly, at many points he undeniably acted like the villain or bad guy. However, in his final act in life, Darth Vader, was the unexpected savior and champion for good. On a deeper level, Luke Skywalker was his father’s advocate; and from the depths of their byzantine struggle emerged that unyielding and homogeneous universal ruler. In the end, justice emerged.