The Tyson Rape Case
We know sex sells movies; and now, it seems, sex sells news. Coverage of the Clarence Thomas harassment case, the Kennedy rape case, and the Clinton adultery case have left us wondering if news programs shouldn't be R-rated.
And now there's another rape case. But this time, there were much deeper questions at stake--questions about the very purpose of the courts.
The case involved former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, who was convicted of raping an 18-year-old woman who he'd asked out on a date. Tyson's sentencing is scheduled for the end of this month.
No sooner was the verdict announced than all sorts of groups rushed to predict what the social fall-out would be. Women's groups are celebrating Tyson's conviction, and eagerly forecasting what impact it will have on future rape cases.
Other groups are bemoaning the conviction, and doing all they can to forestall a jail sentence. They argue that putting Tyson behind bars would achieve no social good at all--that it'd even be harmful.
A group of ministers is circulating a petition saying Tyson is "one of [the] few ... modern-day African-American heroes." The petition urges the court to consider the devastating effect it will have on young blacks if they see their hero languishing in jail.
Well, no matter which set of predictions turns out to be right, both sides have missed the most important point. What's at issue is foremost a question of justice. Is the man guilty of a crime? And if so, what is a just form of punishment?
These questions aren't even being asked. The groups who are interviewed on the nightly news aren't concerned about justice inside the courtroom; they're concerned about the impact outside the courtroom--on people in the streets. Will it help women or hurt them? Will it help young black men or hurt them?
Well, I'm not a prophet and I don't know what effect Tyson's conviction will have. What concerns me is this attitude that what really counts is the social effects a court decision has. What various interest groups are asking of the court system is not justice but results.
Justice is being sacrificed to social engineering, with the courts used as tools to produce pre-selected social outcomes. We don't want judges to read the law, we want them to read our petitions. We don't want them to interpret and apply the law. We demand that they interpret and assuage public opinion.
Don't forget that it was much the same kind of pragmatism that lead to the crucifixion of Christ. Pontius Pilate wasn't thinking about justice, he was thinking about keeping the political peace in Jerusalem and assuaging the mob outside his window.
So Pilate sacrificed Jesus to pacify the crowds.
True justice is like the statue that adorns many courthouses, where it is personified as a woman wearing a blindfold. The blindfold means she doesn't look to see who's being sentenced and what the social outcome will be. She simply metes out what is due.
Mike Tyson deserves better than to be used as a political pawn by various interest groups. What he deserves, and what the rest of the country needs, is a bracing dose of blind, impartial justice.