by Alexa Linger
Imagine for a moment that you wake up every morning and spend your day enveloped in chaos, trapped in a slum that is divided into sectors, where you never leave your own block. With every breath you take, you inhale residual radiation from the Atomic War of 2070. Dust, dirt, and grime invade your nostrils every time you step outside of your house (if you are lucky enough to have one – due to extreme population density most people live in mobile homes). Your city is over-wrought with crime because criminals are given free reign and mob bosses run the streets. You live within a dictatorship. You have no job and the unemployment rate is high because most jobs have been replaced by robots. (This is presumably the cause of all of the crime). This is your daily life.
This is the daily life of the citizens of Mega-City One, the sprawling, dystopian city that is the fictional setting of “Judge Dredd,” created in 1977. The British comic first appeared in the second issue of 2000 AD, a weekly science-fiction magazine, and its namesake, Judge Joseph Dredd, was the longest running character. A law enforcement officer, he is the most famous Street Judge, as they’re called, with the power to arrest, convict, sentence, and execute criminals for the dictatorship. Namely, the Street Judges are to be the solution to the skyrocketing crime rate.
And it works as well as it can.
As much as the people of Mega-City One fear the criminals, they may fear the Judges even more. Essentially, they are in this radioactive wasteland that is a result of years and years of the Earth being battered by international conflicts, stuck between the Judges and the criminals.
The Judges patrol the streets and, though capital punishment is rarely used, alleviate crime. To aid them, they have a “Lawgiver pistol” (a gun that only recognizes the owner’s palm-print), police baton, stun gun, gas grenades, and a motorcycle equipped with machine guns and a laser-canon. In addition, the Judges have helmets that cover most of the faces, thus symbolizing how ‘justice is faceless.’
In the 2012 film version of the comic, titled “Dredd,” Judge Dredd works with a female psychic who is training to be Judge. Together, they patrol Mega-City One and take down a drug-lord named Ma-Ma. “Dredd” is a great representation of the comic series and show viewers, in live-action, how Judges would work in practice and not just in theory.
So, this made me wonder if what modern day America would be like with Judges instead of police officers, judges (like we have now), etc.
We know that the United States is a democracy made up of three branches of government. We elect a president and we, for the most part, have clean air to breath. The crime-rate varies based on where you live, but, generally speaking, you have the option to move (unlike the people in Mega-City One). Most people have the choice to rent apartments, townhouses, or condominiums or own a house – you’re not stuck with a mobile-home. You probably have a job, access to entertainment, and freedom to walk around without fear. Quite simply, you have choices.
With that being said, it may be even more difficult to imagine a world like the one in Mega-City One because we are able to go to the police for help, instead of being afraid. We have a justice system in place where everyone is entitled to a fair trial. We have order.
But what if we didn’t? How would having Street Judges affect our civil liberties? Let’s take a look at a few court cases from recent years to illustrate the differences in our society and in the society of Mega-City One.
In 2012, twenty-four year old James Holmes, who was failing his graduate doctoral program at Colorado State University, slipped into the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” and opened fire, killing twelve people and injuring more than seventy. Though his parents testified that he seemed like a normal child, he became very withdrawn at puberty and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Further, he admitted during the trial to having homicidal thoughts since age ten. Holmes was charged with 166 counts of murder and attempted murder, to which he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. According to police, his psychosis worsened while he was in custody.
The major question concerning Holmes was if it is morally or legally okay to execute a person with a mental illness. And it was determined that it isn’t – at least in this case (because Holmes did get convicted, but was not given the death penalty). I feel this would be a different matter in Mega-City One. Namely, if Judge Dredd came face-to-face with James Holmes at the movie theatre, I’m willing to bet he would have executed him on the spot. There would be no questions about his mental status.
Another example is the Jodi Arias case.
In 2008, Arias murdered her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. After spending several days stalking him and slashing his tires, she stabbed him multiple times in the chest, slit his throat, and shot him in the head with his own gun (that she got from his bedroom) while he was in the shower and claimed self-defense. In 2013, she was sentenced to life in prison. (Her mental status was also called into question and she was given an IQ test to measure her competency to stand trial). Again, I believe a Street Judge would have executed her on the spot. (I believe these are extreme cases in which the Judges would have carried out capital punishment).
Can you imagine committing a crime and a policeman arresting you, deciding you’re guilty within seconds, and doling out the punishment/sentence they deemed appropriate within the eyes of the law? There is no arrest, being questioned and processed, sitting in a jail cell, waiting for a trial, speaking to an attorney, sitting through a trial, and possibly being sentenced and serving said sentence. I for one can confidently say I do not want to be part of a world where crime is rampant, jobs are scarce, and our law enforcement officers are able to dispense justice in mere moments. I do not want to live in a world where justice is delivered through brutality and violence. It would leave us with little to no civil liberties. Sure, you may feel safer if you’re one of Mega-City’s law-abiding citizens, but we wouldn’t enjoy the freedom and rights we have today.
We have a government that is greatly dictated by the Constitution and has been since 1776 (and will be for the foreseeable future). So, I can hardly fathom life like that of life in Mega-City One. I can’t imagine Judge Dredd being the “new face of justice.” I just don’t see the American people “allowing” this brand of justice.
Mega-City One is largely a dictatorship, as I’ve said before, and the Judges are part of that. Maybe it’s because I’ve always grown up in a democracy and oppressive dictators, genocide, war, car bombings were the things of history books, but I wonder how the American people would take to such oppression. Would we stand idly by and allow our country to end up like Mega-City One out of fear? Would we fight, protest, and riot? Would we over-throw the government or be silenced by the Judges? Those are difficult questions to answer. I can only say I hope we never have to. And I hope “Judge Dredd,” and dystopian comics and books will serve as a reminder of how fragile our society really is.