I had fallen asleep on the evening of March 27 to be woken up by our senior dog around midnight. As I carried her outside to do her business, I realized I had missed the Academy Awards that evening. What movie had won Best Picture, and who had won Best Actor/Actress?
Despite the ready availability of information on the internet, it was nearly impossible to find this information because all anyone was talking about was “the slap.” Reactions to Will Smith’s momentary failure of restraint in slapping Chris Rock took some time to gel, but the reaction has been unyielding.
Smith’s projects with studios are now on hold, and he has resigned his membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
Whether one agrees with Smith’s reaction as an act of protection for his wife or deplores him for reacting in violence, it is without doubt that he is being held accountable.
The other image of accountability these past two weeks has been that of self-righteous Sen. Josh Hawley badgering U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson about her sentencing of convicted individuals in child pornography cases.
Although her sentences were well within the mainstream of what other judges had sentenced similar individuals, Sen. Hawley wanted to make it seem like she had absolved defendants of all responsibility and repercussions for their criminal actions. He argued that she had failed the justice system, and the victims, allowing dangerous criminals to be released with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. If nothing else, he was making sure she was accountable for her decisions.
Where this touches on the absurd is the reaction of the same Sen. Hawley to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. That same Sen. Hawley raised his fist to the insurrectionists signaling for them to fight. Sen. Hawley is among many who defend the “honor” of the insurrectionists. Some refer to them as vacationers here to see the Capitol. If there is one thing Hawley is not, it is apologetic for his support of an act of sedition, and he has certainly not been held accountable. In fact, he will likely be easily re-elected and is still considered a future presidential candidate by his party.
A key component of Sen. Hawley’s attacks on Judge Jackson were for her application of mercy, recognizing the humanity of the defendant before her for sentencing. Will there be mercy for Will Smith? I would guess so. He is demonstrating his contriteness in voluntarily resigning from the Academy. For many of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists, they have issued their apologies for what they did in hopes of a more lenient sentence.
It is instinctive to desire retribution when wrong has happened. “The Merchant of Venice” has the famous call for a “pound of flesh” from Antonio in payment of his debt to Shylock. The ensuing pleading of their cases includes a call for mercy from Portia, disguised as a judge. When Shylock refuses, the tables are turned, and he becomes the defendant, in danger of losing all that he has.
Clearly, the lesson was to be that Shylock had to be held accountable for his behavior, and yet where is the accountability for Antonio and the other Christians who seemingly escape without having to repay their debt and claim Shylock’s property as their own? When the opportunity to display mercy to Shylock arises, instead, justice is punitive and crushing.
The hypocrisy of the main protagonists in Shakespeare’s play can be seen clearly through the aggressive badgering of Sen. Hawley. For someone who has no remorse to demand mercy for those with whom he allies, but to seek the most punitive forms of justice against those he does not see affiliation is a perversion of our justice system.
We too often see the justice system not as a means of achieving actual justice, but as a means of inflicting punishment.
Justice does not need to be punitive. In fact, restorative justice can be mutually beneficial for both the perpetrator and the victim in some cases. We need to remember that there are many facets to taking responsibility. Justice must also be meted out equally and fairly.
Judge Jackson seems to understand these principles coexist and each play a role in what justice does look like, and that is what will make her an excellent Supreme Court Justice.
David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.