According to Hoffman, the term “affective empathy” is the process of feeling what another person is feeling due to a certain situation in which they are in (231). That feeling of empathy leads to “empathetic distress” which is the process that creates the same feelings (Hoffman 231). Justice is defined as “the proper administration of the law; the fair and equitable treatment of all individuals under the law” (Definitions US legal “Law and Legal definition” 2016). Two main results come from a good justice system; they are fairness and moral rightness. Law, on the other hand, is defined as a combination of rules and regulations under which a certain society enforces justice. In other words, law is a means to achieve justice and justice is a means to achieve fairness. My point in this essay is that the goal of both justice and law is fairness and if for some reason, fairness isn’t achieved, then we ought to do something. Problems of injustice in our judicial system are sometimes caused by the poor enforcement of the law. The court is the one in charge to enforce the law and yet, sometimes, it fails to do so correctly. One of the reason of the court’s failures is that the court itself is made by people (the jury and the judge). Yet, those people aren’t always unbiased as we expect them to be. The fact that the law is enforced by a single entity-the court- whose decisions are never examined or questioned to check their fairness is also a problem that jeopardizes our judicial system. By entirely trusting the court to bring to us justice, we assume that it never makes mistakes and yet, it does. Carl Lee’s case articulates the above claims.
It is important in this essay to understand thoroughly what led Carlee to kill the two rapists. Carl lee wanted the rapists fairly punished for raping his daughter. However, he could not count on the court to bring him justice. First of all, those rapists had been raping and torturing other young kids. Yet, by not fairly punishing them, the court had failed to bring justice to all those kids (11:32-13:02 TK). High chances were that for the same reasons they were not punished before-which could be because they were white and rich- they weren’t going to be fairly punished either for raping Tonya. Second, Carlee was a poor black man whose daughter had been raped by white men. Therefore, he was not expecting the court to bring him justice- most especially in a time where blacks were highly discriminated. Had Carl Lee been confident that the court was going to fairly punish the rapists, he would not have killed them. Whose fault is it then if Carl lee is obliged to bring justice to himself? Isn’t it the court’s fault which failed to fairly punish from the very beginning?
In the movie, the law demands that no matter the circumstances, there is no justification for taking justice in one’s own hands (As Carlee did by killing the rapists) (2:44:02-2:44:05 TK). However, the above rule is unfair because it expects us to stand and do nothing while we are continuously being wronged by the court’s failure to do its job. On the other hand, True justice demands that no one be above the law, not even the court itself. If individuals must take responsibility of their mistakes, then the court, on its turn, should take responsibility for failing to do its job -not punishing us if we do it on our own. Therefore, by killing the rapists, Carlee refuses to sit and watch impunity-he does what the court should have done long ago- and so should not be punished for it. This however means that for the second time, the court will have to break the law by not punishing Carl Lee- but this time for the sake of justice.
Carl Lee went to talk to Jack about what he thought of doing. He asks him what he would do if his girl was raped- knowing that he might meet the rapists moving freely only ten years after. This question makes Jake go through a self -oriented empathetic arousal method where he started relating the rape of Tonya to his own daughter. He felt that if he had been in the same situation as Carl Lee was, he would have done the same thing. This conversation also makes Jake have an “empathetic feeling of injustice” Hoffman 240. This feeling was mostly shown when Jake didn’t denounce Carl Lee to the sheriff even though he had an idea of what Carl Lee planned on doing (11:32-13:02 TK); he let him get his own justice. In other words, Jake also knew that Tonya would not have received justice if her dad hadn’t taken it himself. We can therefore deduce that Jake passionately defended Carl Lee not only because he related to him as a father, but also because he knew that the only way Carl Lee was going to get justice, is if he took it himself. Carl Lee was obliged to kill by the court’s previous failure to punish the rapists and the high probability that it was going to fail again. This means that the judges and the jury whom we count on to reinforce our laws had failed to do so in the very beginning. The court therefore ought not to dictate what Carl Lee’s fate should be.
During his closing remarks, Jake tells the jury to close their eyes and imagine a ten-year-old girl being raped. He explains the whole scene detail by detail and at the end, he says: “now imagine the girl was white”. By saying that closing sentence, Jake wants the jury to think about what they would do if the girl had been one of theirs-white. This scene shows that Jake manipulated the jury by making them over empathize with the victim. However, though empathy was used to manipulate the jury, it was at the same time a “necessary wrong” used for the bigger cause of restoring justice. In a sense, by manipulating the jury to acquit Carl Lee who punished the rapists whom the court should have punished before, Jake obliges the court to take responsibility for not punishing the rapists.
Empathy in the beginning of the movie made Jake understand what Carl Lee was going through. However, at the end of the movie, Jake used empathy to manipulate the jury to acquit Carl Lee. By doing this, Jake becomes the rare person who questions what the court does and makes it take responsibility of its mistakes. Jake used that deceiving method only because there was no other way to make the jury acquit Carl Lee. The question I ask is “Does the end justify the means?” and my answer is yes- for this particular case. This movie uses empathy in a way that we wouldn’t necessarily use it all the time but it is justified to do so if the ultimate goal is justice for all. When the court breaks the law by not punishing then it might need to break other laws to fix the imbalance.
Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2011. 230-54. Print.
(Definitions US legal “Law and Legal definition” 2016)
(Farlex, The free dictionary-Justice, 2016)
http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/justice: used to define justice