It should be simple. If you do the crime, you do the time, right? Peace in our society is maintained by citizens electing their legislators, who design laws that are agreed on and enforced by trained officers. Well it seems fairly simple. Lawbreakers end up in jail serving the time for their crimes. There is, however, a lot of underlying human nature complexity in this process. And this complexity means that we are all guilty, to some degree, for crimes committed by lawbreakers.
The complexity I’m talking about has to do with why the demographics of society are so different from the demographics of our prison populations. For example, Blacks and Hispanics represent a much higher percentage of the total inmate population than they represent in the general population. This problem is explained in part by the fact that our participation in the American social system reinforces the privilege that some people have and the marginalization that others experience.
And these problems actually start very early in life. Sometimes race discrimination is taught and reinforced at home even before elementary school. And if they don’t get it at home, most kids will experience some kind of racism early in their time at school. People learn from their social groups early on that they are popular or not, pretty or not, talented or not, and whether their skin color is good or not. Basically, we don’t get to decide completely who we are which affects how we feel about ourselves or how we behave.The bottom line is the way we behave towards others influences their identity. Therefore, if I participate in a social system that marginalizes others, then haven’t I negatively shaped someone’s identity? As a result, am I not partly guilty for the lawbreaker’s behavior? I believe that I am. While this reality is troubling and, unfortunately, doesn’t come with a quick fix, I can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Micah 6:8 raises the question “What does the Lord require of us” and the answer is - to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Just imagine the implications on our social system if we stand up for justice, mercy, and humility. Just imagine.