I’ve been thinking about the concept of justice a lot lately. About what it is, what it means, and the best way to achieve it. It’s an interesting subject to me, but I don’t have any easy answers.
I live in the US, and in the US it seems to be taken as a given that justice = punishment. It is a highly binary society, steeped in ideas of good vs. bad and punishment vs. reward. When someone is bad, we get justice by punishing them, and this seems to be very rarely questioned. And, honestly, having been raised in this culture, in a family that fully embraced the punishment ideals, I am not immune to this idea. I also think that this punishment thing taps into the desire to *hurt them back.* This is something else that I am not at all immune to – when someone hurts me, often my very first desire is to hurt them back. So if I have been hurt by someone’s actions in some way, the idea of them enduring some form of punishment can be very appealing. And, honestly, when a person does a terrible thing, particularly a terrible thing that ends in the death of an innocent person, punishment should definitely be a consequence of their actions.
However, is that justice? If I want justice, is that how to get it? Are consequences for the perpetrators enough?
This is not simply an academic question. The autism community seems to be rocked by tragedy entirely too often. A type of tragedy that I keep hearing over and over and over again, and I’m sure you have too. It’s the one where the headline goes, more or less, “Parent kills autistic child.” And everyone blogs about it and we try to make enough noise to be heard above all the people acting like killing an autistic child is maybe less bad than killing a “normal” child and we cry out for justice. Over and over, we want justice.
Eventually in my life I learned that their are other ways of looking at justice than simply punishment. One way is restitution. There are plenty of cases where I like this idea, but in the kinds of tragedies we deal with, is restitution really a thing? Nothing can ever undo the damage done when a child is murdered. This is not an act that anyone or anything can make up for. It’s done, it’s over, that’s it. What kind of justice can we have in this sort of situation?
Increasingly I think I want to look at justice as bettering the world in some way. Hurting the parents who do things like this certainly makes me feel better, but does it make the world better? Does it make it so that these things don’t happen anymore? Not really.
Crying for better services is certainly something important, but it carries the dangerous subtext that lack of services somehow makes killing one’s child a reasonable decision, which is not the case. So while we need better services, no doubt about that, I’m not so sure they are part of justice.
Want to know one thing I think would be just? Something that would make these situations ever so slightly less terrible? If, when something like this happened, the headline simply read “Parent kills child.” If we didn’t need to add in that “autistic” thing. If a child could simply be a child, and the world reacted to a parent killing their autistic child the same way it reacts to a parent killing their neurotypical child – as opposed to how it is now, when so many people seem to believe that the loss of an autistic life is less terrible and more understandable than the loss of a neurotypical life.
That would be a step towards justice. A small step, but at least it would be something.
I’m not sure what other conclusion I can draw here. I don’t know how to achieve justice for murdered children, autistic or otherwise. All I know is that I don’t want it to happen anymore.