Author Archives: searchingthroughwords

Reaching for Justice

In Derrida’s view, language operates by deferring a word to another word that attempts to explain the previous word. This is done when attempting to define a word. In class we discussed the words crime, law, and justice, and the definitions that arose all came back full circle to a word that was previously mentioned. Also some of the definitions had other words in it that needed to be defined further, thus illustrating Derrida’s view on language and how there are difficulties faced when trying to define a word. As noted in Pavlich (2011) this attempt to define words or topics leads to “deferring signs to one another in a dynamic way to produce provisional, context-specific meanings”.  This shows that although we have been taught that a definition provides a closing off of things that are different or outside of the definition, this view on deferring signs illustrates that we are constantly opening definitions as we are constantly referring to other concepts. Derrida aims to take definitions that have been fixed and open them up – although he would argue that these definitions are not in fact fixed.

Derrida has coined the term ‘differance’ which suggests “how the process of deferring to other terms actually creates meaning, being and presence” (Pavlich, 2011). According to Derrida, these entities are never fixed – they are always becoming.  Differance is distinguished from deconstruction as it does not destroy rather it reorganizes concepts. In Derrida’s view “deconstruction is never a finite being predetermined for once and for all [as it is] … without end and never rests” (Pavlich, 2011).

When it comes to the question of law and the application of Derrida’s work he touches on Benjamin’s work as he states that “law is ultimately arbitrary because the instituting, founding, and justifying moment of law’ is a performative force” (Pavlich, 2011). This means that the force is the result of it actually being carried out. Derrida believes you will never be able to get at justice rather it is about the pursuit. Through law is where the rise to ideas occurs in respect to whether or not justice or injustice has in fact occurred.

I agree with Derrida’s view on deconstruction is justice. He believes that destruction and justice are both about looking forward. Justice is always deferred and deconstruction is constantly ongoing. I believe this is on point with our legal system in several ways. As we discussed in class when a lawyer is interrogating the accused, he attempts to undermine the accuseds argument – which Derrida would claim to be deconstruction, and this deconstruction gives rise to justice or injustice. In terms of his three paradoxes I strongly agree with them as well. The first ‘judicial decisions are both rule conforming and rule extending’ is what came into my mind as soon as I started reading the chapter. Judges do not simply apply and follow rules they also simultaneously make new rules as they go, depending on certain characteristics or circumstances of the case.  Secondly, the purpose of applying these rules is to pursue justice. Thirdly, you can never find justice in the present it is something that one is reaching for. I believe this third point is very critical in the sense that the law is constantly evolving and changing as new laws are set forth, and amendments are made to prior laws. This is the clearest example for me when interpreting Derrida. According to the specific time, or norms within a community, country or nation, laws on what are socially acceptable versus what are not, changes from time to time. This gives rise to new laws and thus it would be difficult to prescribe one solid definition to specific words.

I conceive Derrida’s views on deconstruction, although confusing at first, are a great way to examine concepts and become a more critical thinker. We’ve been taught from childhood onwards that there is a right and a wrong answer to a certain word within its definition, however, Derrida would believe that there is more to a simple definition, and opens it up further in an attempt to reach for justice. I believe this is fascinating as the law doesn’t stop and it is constantly evolving, therefore why should individuals find simple definitions, and provide simple yes or no answers, when there is much more examining and exploring to do.

References

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford

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NYPD Stop-and-Frisk portrays racism

The NYPD stop-and-frisk program enables police officers to stop and search individuals who are out in public based on ‘suspicion’ without a warrant. These officers are supposed to meet a quota and a failure to do so can result in disciplinary action. The video “The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy” shows the New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stating that this program is a great program because the police are being proactive, and as a result the crime rate is decreasing. This program in the public’s eye appears legitimate however at the same time it creates tension surrounding the notion of race. This will be examined in this blog post by making reference to Critical Legal Studies and Critical Race Theory.

The main focus of the critical legal studies as stated by Pavlich (2011) in Law & Society Redefined “… is to explore the manner in which legal doctrine and legal education and the practices of legal institutions work to support a pervasive system of oppressive in egalitarian relations”. We discussed this in class and the idea that the law appears legitimate, even though it may not be, arose. This relates to the stop and frisk program as the aim of it is to reduce crime. Most individuals in the public would believe that having more cops on the street reduces crimes and it would result in safer communities. However, as stated on the New York Civil Liberties Unions page “No research has ever proven the effectiveness of [the program], and the small number of arrests, summonses, and guns recovered demonstrates that the practice is ineffective” (http://www.nyclu.org/node/1598). This page goes on to state that while violent crime fell 29% in New York from 2001 to 2010, many other cities had declines in crime as well without programs like this and at greater percentages, such as 59% in Los Angeles. This program may appear to work in the favour of the community yet it doesn’t as it reinforces the beliefs that certain individuals commit crimes and therefore they need to be stopped, which goes towards the next point of critical race theory.

The idea behind critical race theory is that law is responsible for producing unequal race relations. Therefore, as a result the law reproduces the notion of race. Critical race theorists would suggest that this program definitely reproduces the notion of race. In the video one of NYPD Veterans states that he had a captain who said “we’re going to go out there and we’re going to violate some rights”. This shows that even before the stop begins the officer has in his mind that he is going to target certain individuals. This causes more tension between racialized minorities and the police because the minorities feel targeted. It also produces tension within the community as the minorities will feel that it is unfair that they are subject to the majority of these stops while Whites for example were not subject to as many. In the article “An Analysis of the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy in the Context of Claims of Racial Bias” Fagan et Al. (2006) note that “In total, Blacks and Hispanics represented 51% and 33% of the stops, respectively…” and more recently according to the video more than 87% were Black or Latino and 9/10 were innocent of any wrongdoing. As Matsuda (1993) notes one should not examine “racism as isolated instances of conscious bigoted decision making or prejudiced practice, but as larger, systemic, structural, and cultural, as deeply psychological and socially ingrained” (Pavlich, 2011). Through this process society has the belief that certain races commit more crimes, and as a result certain areas are targeted more. This is presented in the article by Fagan et al. (2006) as they state that “since ‘high crime areas’ often have high concentrations of minority citizens (Massey and Denton, 1993), this logic places minority neighborhoods at risk for elevating the suspiciousness of their residents”. I believe this is a crucial point to note as not only is an individual’s race of importance when an officer is thinking of stopping them but also the location they choose as well.

All of these factors mentioned above combined together lead to the communities increased perception that minorities commit the most crimes and therefore this program is good. However, I would question how effective these stops are and research has shown that they are not doing much and are rather more of a nuisance to specific minorities. However, one could state that they are making a difference as they eliminate some percentage, even though it is small, of crime that would otherwise go undetected. Personally, I feel that by having this program in place it is reinforcing the belief that minorities commit crime and this belief is held in the majority of the communities mind and as a result this makes individuals unknowingly have distorted opinions when it comes to who commits crimes. This cycle continues and minorities are targeted more and more, and when at a stop a minority is found to have something on them this reinforces the belief that it is the minorities who cause violence and the cycle repeats as it feeds into the public’s perception.

References

Fagan, J., Gelman, A., Kiss, A. (2006). An analysis of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy in the context of claims of racial bias. Columbia Law School.

New York Civil Liberties Union. Racial Justice: Stop-and-Frisk Data. http://www.nyclu.org/node/1598

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford

Tutle, Ross. (2012). “The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7rWtDMPaRD8#!

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Crime as a Necessary Societal Function

This week’s food for thought question states that Durkheim’s sociology of law proposes that crime is a normal part of society which is necessary and indispensable. This means that law is a barometer for social norms. The idea that crime is necessary looks at the question of, what gives us, as a society, solidarity. Hunt proposes that Durkheim was mainly concerned with social solidarity. In Law & Society Redefined Pavlich notes how Hunt (1978) looked at how social solidarity asks “what is it about human society with its ever more complex interrelationships, structures and institutions which ensures not only its continuity and cohesion, but also its transformation. This is what I want to examine in this blog post, the notion that crime is necessary and the actions taken to prevent crime helps create a cohesive society.

The need for society to be cohesive is of grave importance. The point that Durkheim presents as crime being necessary is crucial because by working towards a common goal, in relation to dealing with crime, it brings the society together. If the government did not regulate crime there would be anarchy in the society. Back in the days of an eye for an eye there were unjust laws that enforced justice as revenge. At the time they may have seen this as just. However, in modern times there has been more of an approach of restitution. By this regulation of criminality society can now come together and strengthen their bonds by showing a united front against what society as a whole views as wrong.

The latest contemporary example which we had discussed in class was that of Amanda Todd. She was a young girl who committed suicide due to bullying. Most people know her story so I don’t think it is necessary to go into depth. What struck me most about this unfortunate situation is how it had to go to such an extreme before actions are taken. Not only this but also how social media as a whole has presented this to the public and the immense role that social media plays in societies view of an issue. I think it is great that the media is bringing this to the public’s attention, as it brings the community together. However, in my opinion I believe the government is not doing enough when it comes to such issues as Reno (1999) states “when incidents have been serious enough to warrant intervention by law enforcement, the traditional response has been to treat them as simple nuisance complaints” (Stewart & Fritsch, 2011)

I feel that something more needs to be done. One example of the government taking action is the case, from just a few days after the Amanda Todd death, of eight Ontario girls being arrested due to bullying. This shows that the government is no longer taking these issues as a simple complaint, but instead are choosing to act and do something. In some aspect it may be due to the immense role of the media shaping the public’s perception of this issue as a really big deal. Regardless, I think it is great that they are taking steps to ensure bullying is not taken lightly. In the article I have attached regarding the case of the 8 Ontario girls Bill Tucker states that “… the research says if an individual intervenes in bullying behaviour, we can stop bullying behaviour within seconds …in 50 per cent of cases”. I would be skeptical to accept this as a statistic because it isn’t from an academic article, yet I think it is essential to note simply the idea that by intervening in bullying it is possible to decrease or possibly stop the behaviour.

Overall, I feel that crime is necessary in a society and without it as individuals in society we wouldn’t be able to distinguish right from wrong. By having crime in society we determine the societal norms and how individuals should and should not behave. The point I have tried to examine in this blog post is that in a contemporary example of bullying, individuals need to stop stating the obvious by saying bullying is bad, and take a step and act on their thoughts in order to prevent it. By doing so it will create a unified society as we fight a united battle and show that even though we are aware that bullying exists we will not tolerate it if we witness it or hear about it. I believe this in itself will possibly prevent many cases of bullying from occurring.

References

Cbc News. 8 Ontario girls arrest in high school bullying case. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/10/19/london-bullying-arrests-girls-cyber.html

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford

Stewart, D.M. & Fritsch, E.J. (2011). School and Law Enforcement Efforts to Combat Cyberbullying. Preventing School Failure, 55(2), 79-87. Doi: 10.1080/104598X.2011.539440

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Unjust Driving Laws in Saudi Arabia

Within most parts of the world women are allowed to drive and most citizens would feel that if they were denied this right it would be unjust.  I was surprised to discover that women in Saudi Arabia are legally not allowed to drive. Virtually everywhere else in the world women have the right to drive and doing so would not submit them to be arrested, however, in Saudi Arabia this is not the case. This law is unjust as the driving law discriminates on the basis of gender. The men of Saudi Arabia are given the freedom to drive and come and go as they please yet “laws demand that a male guardian – a father, brother, or son – accompany women on any trip outside the house”. (Chulov, 2011). This is completely unjust in today’s evolving society where most countries believe that everyone should be treated equal under the law and not discriminated against due to their gender yet Saudi Arabia has a far ways to come as they are still suppressing the rights of women.

John Finnis examines law and the flourishing of human life and believes that there are seven basic forms of human flourishing that “are essential to a fulfilling life”. In addition, he believes that these goods do not lead to a fulfilling life solely as individuals; rather they arise “in the context of our interactions with other people, namely, in a community, led by an authority with a common good” (Pavlich, 2011). In relation to his seven guidelines that he sets out I believe that the driving laws for Saudi Arabian women are in conflict with his views. Finnis would challenge the driving laws within the sociability and especially friendship point of his seven guidelines. As these women are not permitted to drive, they would be withheld from going and visiting friends and family and interacting with those outside of their home. Yes, they would be able to go visit family and friends but they would be required to do so when it would be convenient for the male guardian to take them, if he is able to. This touches on another basic form of Finnis’ which is that of practical reasonableness. Mothers and wives would need to go grocery shopping, drop their children off at school and run many other errands but would have to wait until there is a male to chauffeur them around. Also, if an emergency arises and the male who is at home needs to be taken to the hospital, should the women be required to wait until another male guardian can come and drive to the hospital? This would be absurd and completely unreasonable. Not only is it unreasonable for older women, but young women as well. Since many women are now able to get an education in Saudi Arabia they too would be required to wait until there is a male guardian present to drop them or pick them up from school, or school related activities. Since his basic goods are in conflict with this law and the common good of society is not being achieved Finnis would argue that the lives of these women are not living a fulfilling life.

Furthermore, Finnis believes that practical reasonableness is “about rationality balancing our pursuit of different goods while respecting the basic value of each of those goods for individuals and society”. This law conflicts with that view as forbidding women from driving disrespects them and as a result shows that the government doesn’t value them within society. This law ultimately inhibits the lives of women across the country and they are viewed beneath men as the men are not forced to follow the same law.

In conclusion, I find it interesting to note that women are not even given a chance to drive in Saudi Arabia yet research in regards to driving has shown that “male drivers under the age of 25 are found to be the most reckless and aggressive, and as a consequence they are charged the highest premiums” (Slovenko, 2003) and yet their driving ability has never been put into question. In addition males “… also receive 98% of convictions for dangerous driving” (Slovenka, 2003). Although I do not believe that a change in the Saudi Arabian driving law will occur instantly, it will spark more attention if more women come out and discuss the issue and make it apparent that it has and will continue to affect their lives.

To end this post I have included an interview by CNN with Saudi Princess, Ameerah al-Taweel. The discussion regarding the driving law for women begins at 2:38.

http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/20/saudi-princess-opens-up-about-womens-right-in-saudi-arabia/

References

Chulov, M. (Sep. 25, 2011). Saudi women to be given right to vote and stand for election in four years. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/25/saudi-women-right-to-vote (accessed on September 21, 2012)

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford

Slovenko, R. (2003, Fall2003). The evolving status of women: from chattel to chauffeur. Journal of Psychiatry & Law. pp. 385-412

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