US justice system failing
The World Justice Project released its 2010 ‘Rule of Law Index’ ranking the top 11 developed countries based on its citizens’ access to civil justice. The US ranked the lowest.
The report also found that less than one in five low income Americans get the legal assistance they need.
“Wealthier people get good lawyers, private lawyers. They get out of whatever they were accused of and the same accusation against a low income person of color will lead them to jail for lengthy periods of time,” said Medea Benjamin, an activist and co-founder of CODEPINK.
The study also looked at other factors including absence of corruption, limited government power and fundamental rights. The US ranked below seventh out of the eleven developed countries in all categories except one.
Many say the results are not surprising. Within the justice system, it’s not just low income Americans who sometimes miss out on legal services. Many argue that race plays a role too.
“In the United States, we have this terrible problem when it comes to bigotry, American bigotry, racist bigotry, class bigotry, within a system of white capitalist supremacy where we still have a large part of the population celebrating the idea that white people are superior to black people,” said lawyer Thomas Ruffin Jr.
Americans also point to the shocking stories of police brutality which have led several police departments across the country including the NYPD to shell sometimes up to $1 billion to settle some of these cases as evidence that the American justice system is broken.
“Everybody interacts with police and you’d think they’re there to serve and protect us, but you know police officers need to understand that they swore an oath to the Constitution and the number one factor they should provide in their job is constitutional protection for the citizens of this country. I think that’s been lost,” said George Hemminger, the founder of Survive and Thrive TV.
The study also found that when it comes to limited government power the United States ranks 9 out of the 11 developed countries studied. Last year the National Legal and Policy Center found that the White House might be spying on Americans on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites. And not too long ago, President Obama re-signed the Patriot Act that allows the government to spy on Americans and seize personal and private records in the name of homeland security.
Some Americans say that while the U.S. continues to wage wars abroad in the name of freedom and democracy, it might need to look to solve the problems within its own borders first.
“Here we are going around the world bombing and invading other countries to bring democracy to them when we really should be focusing on improving our democracy here at home,” Benjamin said.
Every report that ranks nations on one topic or another tends to shock many Americans when they learn the US is not always number one, said author and activist David Swanson.
“We are ,or are supposed to be, number one in everything. And yet we’re number 36 and number 49 on all of these various rankings,” said Swanson.
The report looks at the strength of the rule of law domestically within the US. It measures the nations based on its own domestic policies and freedoms, as opposed to foreign policy.
“This whole idea that ‘they’ hate us for our freedoms is especially absurd because our freedoms don’t actually rank very high,” he added.
However, there is little public outrage.
“It comes and goes depending on what’s on television or what’s streaming through the Internet,” Swanson said. “Most people don’t know what to be outraged about, but when people are outraged there is still no follow through, there’s no accountability.”
He explained that Americans are outraged at the conduct of major banks and financial institutions, but instead of prosecution the government bails them out of trouble.
“The United States probably ought to be considerably lower, then where it is,” he said. “I think this report actually puts a good face on it.”
Swanson argued that most Americans want a more just society and oppose an unjust system, but to oppose it they must be aware of it.
“Nations that have a good propaganda system, nations whose citizen don’t know what’s going on, are not going to object to the injustices, and a lot of this report was based on surveys of ordinary people,” Swanson said.Brian Becker, the national coordinator for the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition in Washington, DC said the problem is the US policy priority has been the demonization and criminalization of the poor, working classes, and the young.
“They’re trying to incarcerate large numbers of people,” said Becker. “If you are a black male born in 2001 you have a one in three chance to go to prison or being in probation or parole sometime in your life. More black kids are going to prison than going to college. We need to turn the country around so that people get jobs and education, and affordable housing.”
He explained that the US has become too class polarized.
“1 percent of the population controls 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, that’s a gargantuan shift,” he said. “The rich really are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. There’s no social safety net.”
“We are turning more into a warfare state than a welfare state. That’s pronouncedly different from the model was in Europe.” Becker said.
The people in the working class neighborhoods and in the cities want to see change. They are suffering and have a desire for greater opportunity, explained Becker.
If the remainder of Americans knew of the troubles and injustices they would want change as well, he argued.
“The corporate dominated media in America stops this story from being told,” he said. “Look for it in the Washington Post or ABC or even CNN this will be a very very minor blip.”