Do you have an idea, a quote, an author, a story, an image to share relating to any one of our justice systems? Please join the conversation!
You can also add by emailing me at “justice at kim vanderheiden dot com.”
I will kick things off by sharing why I have this page. When I began working on law-related artwork, I was looking at how our legal rights have evolved. Who and what was protected, and by and from whom? Whenever I talked to someone about where the justice system should evolve next, I heard so many interesting things that people had to say. I’ve been making artwork to share my own opinions, but I would love to record some of the other voices I’m hearing too.
Law is not a body of rules, but a culture of justice
One place where I’ve read a fresh way of thinking about law and justice is in Peter Gabel’s book, Another Way of Seeing. Gabel goes quite deep into the matter. He talks about people longing for transparent connection with each other, which is rarely achieved because of each person’s fear of the other. Gabel feels that present law responds with fear and usually breaks or withholds connections, and that a more meaningful justice system would support connections in order to respond with love.
Martin Luther King Jr’s definition of justice is “Love correcting that which revolts against Love.”
Another person’s work which I’ve admired is Fania Davis, who heads up a nonprofit near me called Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth. By promoting restorative circles as discipline tools in Oakland’s schools in place of suspensions, RJOY has helped develop a nurturing system of accountability that disrupts the school to prison pipeline for Oakland youth. For an excellent story detailing this, check out this article: Discipline with Dignity
I also think her case for a truth and reconciliation process for healing past acts of violence against African Americans is worth reading: Truth and Reconciliation
Reginald Lyles, deacon at Allen Temple Baptist Church, who was formerly a bay area police captain, is deeply passionate about police violence on African Americans. Here is a lively sketch of him. Lyles writes,
“The haunting symmetry of a death every three or four days links us to an uglier time that many would prefer not to think about, but which reminds us that the devaluation of black life in America is as old as the nation itself and has yet to be confronted. Beyond the numbers, it is the banality of injustice, the now predictable playing out of 21st Century convention – the swift killing, the shaming of the victim rather than inquiry into the shooter, the kitchen-table protest signs, twitter handles and spontaneous symbols of grievance, whether hoodies or Skittles or hands in the air, the spectacle of death by skin color. All of it connects the numbing evil of a public hanging in 1918 to the numbing evil of a sidewalk killing uploaded on YouTube in the summer of 2014.”
I was describing my recent projects to a teacher at school one day last year. She said, “Oh, I have a book you have to read!” Two days later she handed it to me, Bryan Stevenson’s nonfiction bestseller, Just Mercy. It was indeed excellent… and heartbreaking… and eye opening. Stevenson is a dedicated lawyer who has spent his life defending death row inmates many of whom were convicted using poor, faulty, or downright willfully fabricated evidence. At one point I was reading it on the beach while my two young daughters played carefree in the sand and waves. As I read about Stevenson’s eventually successful efforts to ban the use of the death penalty for children, I came to the story of a boy who was sentenced to death because of no other evidence than he was the last person to have seen a young girl who had gone missing. He saw her picking flowers on the day she went missing and was later found murdered. His family fled the area under threats of lynching. He was alone to face trial, and alone on the electric chair, propped on a phone book because he was too small to fit. My children continued to laugh and play in the wet sand.
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “Justice needs to be blind to the irrelevant while looking deeply into the heart.” 3/17/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “True justice is impossible as we cannot know the future nor the past.” 3/17/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “We do not have a justice system in the U.S. Our ‘in’justice system serves only to protect those living with the privilege of white skin, middle-aged, male gender and middle class or higher socio-economic class. So why would anyone want to participate in politics?” 3/17/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “So, you suggest the “Justice Lady” should not be “Color-blind.” I cannot agree with you more. You have a very interesting combination of language (words) with visual art (images/color…). I still find it very difficult to picture or visualize the complex and most of the time ambiguous concepts such as Love, Justice, Truth… But you seem to dare to do exactly that. Your work is very interesting and thought provocative [sic]. Thank you.” 3/17/16
Saba at Contra Costa College: “mass incarceration = contemporary slavery” 3/17/16
KV: Saba, your contribution reminds me of another artist I wanted to share on this page who recently presented and exhibition on this very subject. The artist’s name is Cameron Rowland, and there’s an article about the exhibition here: The Products of Forced Labor in US Prisons.
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “Consider no-fault insurance.” 3/17/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “More colors.” 3/17/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “Young men shot so many times.” 3/17/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “I don’t think we are raised with formally printed laws. Our encounter with them seems to occur as we cross some boundary of behavior that begs a community’s measure. The repeated historic organic evolution of laws also impacts a gender-based society where new things are now possible, now that simple survival is more secure. ” 3/17/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College:
Rafael A. Hidalgo at Contra Costa College: “Justice exists in the system of the United States. In my case, I was in the process. I spent one year in jail and I was treated with human quality and compassion and they understood my situation. But the truth was if not for what I did I would be dead. I would not be telling this story. Everything I did was to save my life. Thank the system of justice in the USA. You can look up the Rafael Hidalgo incident in the newspaper in Bolinas.” 3/17/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “The law is what we depend on when human justice fails.” 3/17/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “The constitution was not written for the African slave.” 3/17/16
Many many thanks to the exhibition visitors at Rhodes Gallery at Contra Costa College for contributing their comments. People are welcome to comment at the exhibition, online, by email, or by facebook. This is an ongoing conversation. Please get in touch! – KV
I recommend this Ted Talk by Adam Foss, a prosecutor with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office who recognizes the grave importance of lives he holds in his hands as he works: A Prosecutor’s Vision for a Better Justice System
This Ted Talk by human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, is also excellent: We Need to Talk About an Injustice
“The opposite of poverty is not wealth, the opposite of poverty is justice” – Bryan Stevenson
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “We should all be angry about injustice, and use that awareness and energy to help remind us to be open to the experience of the other in front of us.” 4/4/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “Has justice become nothing more serious than a linguistic game at hide-and-seek? The courtroom game which impassively and solemnly distributes “justice” but not to all according to their deeds. Rather those with wealth and privilege who write the laws and maintain them. Power and place to the loss of all.” 4/4/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: Quoting G. K. Chesterton from On Household Gods and Goblins “For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.” 4/4/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “Justice isn’t fair; justice is for the rich.” 4/4/16
Ken-Drea, visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “I enjoy your art first off. I was very drawn to the feet and thorns. Made me think of my grandfather’s history in war. 4/4/16
Visitor to exhibition at Contra Costa College: “Riding his bike down an NYC street, my friend – an African American man in his 20’s – was pulled over by police, insulted with racist assaults, bike thrown in back seat, and taken away to the station. Apparently he resembled a young Hispanic man who had just robbed a store. If he had money, a lawyer would have had the case thrown out quickly. But my friend did not have money, and suffered a long ordeal – and lost his job as a bike messenger because of it. This opened my eyes to the injustice in the justice system. 4/4/16
An exhibition visitor sent me this link to share, KQED’s/PRI program Truth be Told, an ongoing discussion of racially charged situations. Visit to hear past recordings, and to submit your own experiences. Truth Be Told
A friend familiar with the exhibit sent me this on 4/9. (He is quoting from the signage text that had accompanied the artwork):
… ignoring they are our children …
Another friend familiar with the exhibit sent me this on 5/6/16: See this article which validates the value and possibilities found is restorative justice practices especially for minors who are otherwise incarcerated.