The internet has been abuzz the past week or so with giddy Schadenfreude directed at Justin Bieber. By now you all now some variation of the story. Police battered their way into his home with a search warrant granted for an investigation of felony vandalism found drugs on the premises. So far it seems as though his friend is going to take the fall for it, and some people on the internet take umbrage with that.
There is a lot to be said about the whole affair. The young pop star has always had as many detractors as fans. Some of them are simply bitter adherents to what has been dubbed hater culture. Others have very legitimate beefs with him and others like him. No doubt many believe it was just a matter of time before he was caught in a compromising position. We can take a long hard look at celebrity culture. We can take a long hard look at how our entertainment industry uses up young people, takes away years of important emotional development, leaves them unable to cope with adult life, and then sells us the story of their fall. All of those are worthy discussions, I suppose, but through all of this we have been missing an important question.
Why did the police feel the need to take a battering ram and search his house like he was a drug kingpin in the first place? Do not mistake me, I have no particular sympathy for him. The police act like that on an everyday basis for poor people, especially poor people of color. When we discuss that problem we, more or less justifiably, focus on those the police are after. After all, police and prosecutorial excess fall heaviest on the most vulnerable in our culture. We never look, however, at who it is they are seeking “justice” for.
The DA’s office in this case would have us believe that they were investigating felony vandalism. What makes this a felony? Well apparently all those eggs did $20,000 dollars worth of damage. It is worth noting that those were not explosive eggs. I find myself wondering how eggs could do that much damage. If you did that much damage to the house I grew up in, we would have to move. In fact, in most houses in America, if you did that much money in damage and someone was home, there would be assault with intent, manslaughter, or murder charges to press before any vandalism charge.
Bieber’s victim, however, is not left homeless by this. No one was actually endangered. If he had egged a home in my neighborhood it would likely amount to a misdemeanor, at worst. This was not my, or your, neighborhood though. This is a neighborhood where annoying cosmetic damage can amount to more money in clean up and replacements than I have ever made in a year. No doubt this is aggravating for his target, who did not really deserve this treatment by an obnoxious brat who has been told he is special by the world. There is a wide gulf though between aggravating and devastating. Therein lies the problem.
I have often walked the middle ground in discussions about capitalism. I still do not think it is inherently evil, but rather needs to be restrained, in every conceivable way. This is one way I see our policies and culture needing to keep up with that. Either that, or maybe this is proof that capitalism is out-and-out wrong. It certainly seems that way when an inconvenient crime for the economic elite of our society is treated the same as a potentially life and death crime for you and I.
This works very well in reverse too. If either young Mr. Bieber or I were caught doing twenty miles an hour over the speed limit we would both risk losing our licenses and a three digit fine. For a pop star who can afford people to drive him around neither of those is much of a problem. For 90% or more of our society though they require a not insubstantial loss of our accounts and a drastic change to our day-to-day life. Capitalism has warped justice in our society, and not just in the cases of “affluneza.”
We need to take a long, hard look at our society. We need to ask ourselves what sort of world we want to live in. Do we want to live in a world where the punishment truly fits the crime, or do we want to continue living in one where having money armors you against the consequences of your actions? Do we want to live in a world where the property of the elite is held in higher regard than the lives of the poor, or do we want to have a truly just community? This will require no small amount of debate, soul-searching, and yes the very hard work of real activism. For too long the folks on the hill have had not just those that enforce the laws, not just those who make the laws, but the very language and culture of “justice” on which those laws are based in their pocket. We have closed our eyes to it, even defended it in the name of “freedom”, a freedom defined in a way very convenient for the elites.
We need to do this, not just because we hold some high idea about what justice means, but because the current status quo has real effects for you and I. You and I can be jailed for just as long for vandalism committed against them as a deadly assault committed by them against us. The game is rigged and any one of us can find the dice rolled against us. Maybe you will get lucky. Maybe you and those you love will never run afoul of this warped system. Maybe you are OK with taking your chances. You shouldn’t be, however, and I am not. This three-ring, celebrity circus surrounding this stupid, little boy should be a wake up call. We need to get out on the streets again, and in greater numbers than ever. This is a prime example of how our income and wealth inequality hurts us. We need to shake things up, and soon, because the aristocrats are too comfortable and too brazen. They have inadvertently given us a view of how they think and it is time to take this glimpse into their mindset and light some fires in our bellies.