Matthew Part VI: What is Justice Epilogue

Portrait of Matthew Avery Solomon

On January 31, 2019, Anthony Ginez, the Mitigator for Community Resources Initiative, who is working on Luis Rojas’ case with defense attorney Alexandria McClure and Harriet, the CRI videographer, came to Portland to interview me. They had interviewed members of Luis’ family and they wanted to talk with me again. They were making a presentation for the Federal Department of Justice, explaining why the death penalty was not appropriate for Luis. During the course of the afternoon, as Anthony and Harriet posed questions to me about my relationship with Matthew, I was forced to think about our entire history, about the actual limits of our connection when he was alive and how his murder and my sense that I was actually, quite literally, responsible for his death, allowed me to become aware of how centrally important Matt had become to my entire life. You might say that Matt’s murder, the… Continue reading

Justice Holds the Broken Tenderly

Lisa Montgomery is scheduled to be executed on Tuesday, January 9th. Her crime seems to me to echo the extreme brutality she endured throughout her own life. She experienced rape more times than can be counted, including gang rapes by her stepfather’s friends, sodomy, and being sold for sex with people such as the plumber and electrician by her mother when work was needed in their home. Her stepfather built a special room where she could be raped more often and more easily. She was smothered to silence her screaming, she suffered a concussion, was beaten with cords, and urinated on. Her mother put a gun to her head. She would also duct tape her daughter’s mouth shut as punishment, and Lisa was required to be naked and silent among her parent’s friends. As a young adult, she was forced into a marriage by her mother where she continued to… Continue reading

When, America, Will There Be Liberty and Justice for All?

When, America?

“Liberty and justice for all” is an idea we’ve never lived up to, –never even have come close. A year or two ago, when the Pledge of Allegiance was led in assemblies in my children’s school, I stopped saying the words, and instead, with hand over heart, decided to pray that someday it will be true. The featured artwork is a Tenderly Project piece on the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, police brutality, and racism in America. The Tenderly Project is a meditation on the sacred value and beauty of all beings. The thick, jumbled tangle of botanical illustrations represent the chaotic, exuberant, too-much-to-comprehend fullness of life in our world. The intention is to work in a state of prayer, holding the subject tenderly, and extend healing and justice to the subject and those touched by similar life experiences. This piece may be copied and shared… Continue reading

Shelter in Place without Shelter

As people in America and around the world are being told to shelter in place in response to the rapid spread of Covid-19, the unhoused remain exposed, without access to shelter, medical care, and are losing access to food and places to wash hands or shower. Some government officials have promised hotel vouchers or trailers, but they have been stalled, and are not reaching local municipalities. Some people among the unsheltered communities are frantic, others are becoming hopeless. People are very scared. In the past week, I’ve personally worked with families with children who had nowhere to go but the street (who thankfully are now being sheltered by a local non-profit), and a person with cancer who still has nowhere to go. In the past few months I’ve jumped on Nextdoor a number of times to support others in my community who were active in finding solutions for the local… Continue reading

Drones, Betrayal, Truth & Complicity: A Conversation

A rich and very personal conversation took place surrounding a concern that arose in the publishing of Matthew IV: Compassion – A Radical Critique. Of the two speakers in the beginning, Kim is the artist who began this Justice Conversation site and has been publishing the articles. Bill is the author of an extended essay, “What is Justice?” which has been running on this site as “Matthew,” a reference to Bill’s stepson who was murdered on the street in San Francisco in 2008. Kim and Bill have a 15-year relationship and used to work together in her studio, and it is due to this, that the conversation was able to take place with such detail and honesty. The final speaker at the end is an unnamed person, A_____ who was asked to respond to the piece, in order to help evaluate the concern. BETWEEN BILL AND KIM: KIM, Feb 21… Continue reading

Matthew Part V: Imagination

“Even the quest for justice can turn into barbarism if it is not infused with a quality of mercy, an awareness of human frailty and a path to redemption. The crust of civilization is thinner than you think.”                              – David Brooks, The Cruelty of Call-out Culture, NT Times, January 14, 2019 “Under the new outlook multiplicity of material wants will not be the aim of life the aim will be rather their restriction consistently with comfort. We shall cease to think of getting what we can but we shall decline to receive what all cannot get.”       – M.K. Gandhi, Young India, 3-9-25, 305 “I do not believe in the doctrine of the greatest good of the greatest number. It means in its nakedness that in order to achieve the supposed good of fifty-one per cent, the interest of forty-nine percent may be, or rather, should be sacrificed. It is… Continue reading

Matthew Part IV: Compassion—a radical critique

“I am a part of all that I have met . . .”                     Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Ulysses, line 18   “Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness. In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as personal… Continue reading

Matthew Part III: We Are Not Innocent

“Your grandmother was not teaching me how to behave in class. She was teaching me how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalization—myself. Here was the lesson: I was not an innocent.”                                                  –Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between the World and Me,” 2015 By the time Matthew was murdered in 2008 I had been “ruthlessly” interrogating myself for thirteen years. I am not entirely sure how I came to this excruciating effort by which I had gradually come to know myself—to know that “I was not an innocent”— to accept responsibility for the harm I had done to those I had thought to love. But three days after the murder, I awoke and for a precious moment or two I had forgotten that Matt was dead. After the realization that he was gone hit me, as I lay in a liminal state—half-awake/half-asleep—I saw that I had… Continue reading

Matthew Part II: The nature of being human

An unexamined life is not worth livingSocrates – 399 B.C. Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.Ludwig Wittgenstein – 1938 (This is a continuation of “Matthew Part I: What is Justice.”  Looking for Matthew, a book of poems by Bill Denham written about his response to Matthew’s death was published by Apocryphile Press in Berkeley, CA in 2012. “O Felix culpa! O light from darkness” was included in this book.) All three defense attorneys responded positively to my inquiry, expressing sorrow for my loss. I thanked them for that expression but stated my current and long-time desire to explore ways to turn this tragic mistake into something positive. I have sent each of them copies of Looking for Matthew. I have been counseled that the pace of such litigation is glacial, at best, and that the capital charges—the death penalty—in the indictment, may never be sought. Regardless, I am… Continue reading

Matthew Part I – What is Justice?

Matthew Avery Solomon, my stepson, was shot and killed while walking with friends on a San Francisco Street on September 4, 2008, an innocent victim of some gang related retaliation. His friend Noel Espinoza was also killed. ________ September 4, 2008 to September 4, 2018 – a decade, ten years – September 4th being an anniversary of a murder, the murder of Matthew Avery Solomon as he walked the streets of San Francisco with his two young friends, Noel and December, after work, just hanging out and having a good time. As it turns out, just a few months ago, in the middle of this tenth year, three young Hispanic men were arrested and charged with the murder of Matthew and of Noel, his buddy. December survived to tell the story: December’s eyes Her ears ringing from the shots,         She could not hear herself scream,        “They shot Matt… Continue reading