By Wende Cross, Esq.
Before March 15, 2020, the world seemed manageable. But then, COVID-19 hit, causing a significant interruption in our lives and to the world as we once knew it. Widespread closures and heavy demand for services began having a deep impact on Americans and businesses both large and small. The concern for our families and the economic impact on our households became great for many and greater for so many others.
During the last few months, my personal time of reflection has caused me to evaluate my life, legacy and my role as a productive member of this community. In my quest to serve others, COVID-19 has taught me that many people are affected by a single ripple. Just as a single person can cause many others to contract the coronavirus, so too can one wrong done by an individual affect many in the circle of influence in that person’s life. For example, in the life of a person who commits a crime of assault, the effect of that harm done reaches not only to the person assaulted, but also to the family (spouse, children, parents) of the person assaulted and of the offender. And most recently, we have seen immeasurable effect of harm caused to the lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. A single infraction in one person’s life can have a ripple effect in the lives of so many others. This leads me to believe that we must expand our view of who is a victim.
The impact of victimization is serious, throwing victims into a state of shock, fear, anxiety and anger. The emotional, physical, psychological and financial ramifications of crime can be devastating to victims. Coping with and recovering from victimization is a complex process. Forms of victimization include, but are not limited to, physical abuse, sexual abuse, bullying, robbery, assault, verbal abuse, dismissal from employment, intimidation by a co-worker or being denied a promotion. And where can victims go for restoration?
The Court is a place of recourse for victims and a place of accountability for offenders. Often times, the immediate victim appears in court surrounded by supportive loved ones who feel the impact of the harm caused, too. Likewise, offenders typically have loved ones in the courtroom who also feel the impact of the harm caused. To me, they are all victims – the person who suffered the immediate harm, their family and loved ones, as well as the loved ones of the offender. Judges must begin to expand their view of victimization. Victimization does not occur solely to the person immediately affected by harm, nor does it stop after a court case is closed. Many times, the past wrong done by an individual is later weaponized against their loved ones. Loving a person who has committed a wrong is wholly different than condoning the wrong or harm done. As members of the bench, we must acknowledge this distinction. We are called upon to understand the justice system from every vantage point and perspective that is presented before us, and not just our own.
Today, people in the U.S. are worried and anxious about friends and relatives who are living in or visiting areas where COVID-19 is spreading. The CDC reports, “Fear and anxiety can lead to social stigma toward people who live in certain parts of the world, people who have traveled internationally, people who were in quarantine, or healthcare professionals.” Stigma is discrimination. Likewise, when we use a wrong done by an individual against their loved one or in some way shame the victim herself, victimization continues to occur. When we cause others to mask their feelings of grief over harm caused to them, victimization continues to occur.
I am using this time of crisis as a decision point in my life – to hold steadfast to my faith, my family, my values and to expand my perspective on the impact of my daily work and personal decisions. Today, more than ever, I am committed to bringing positive systemic change and justice to all people in Hamilton County. If I’ve learned anything during this crisis, I’ve come to fully appreciate that we must, above all else, see and acknowledge each other’s humanity and do what is right for the good of each other and mankind. I will especially incorporate into my perspective those who may be victimized by not only the harm done to them by others, but also by my decisions from the bench.
Wende Cross is a candidate for judge of the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas