Hollywood True Crime: Battery at the OscarsApr 05, 2022
When Will Smith battered Chris Rock at the Oscars (and yes, I’m using “battered” on purpose) with a literal slap in the face, I thought about commenting. When I saw how many people were commenting, I figured I wouldn’t be adding anything unique, so I passed. Yet as I’ve read the condemnation, the outrage, and the sympathy (mostly for Will Smith), I’m fascinated by what I haven’t seen much of. A discussion about whether or not this was a criminal act.
Of course, we all have dissected the incident like a freshman biology frog. “Will laughed!” “Was Chris in on it?” “Does Jada really have alopecia?” Social media went crazy, well, crazy-er.
To call what happened “The Slap” minimizes it. While true, it’s not the complete story. By my reading of California Penal Code 242 PC, concerning the crime of battery, authorities can prosecute a person for shoving someone. I’m pretty sure a slap would also count. Persons prosecuted under this law can incur fines or spend time in the county jail. Or both.
“But Chris didn’t want to press charges!” The ultimate decision to prosecute, or not, lies with the actual prosecutor. That’s why criminal cases are State v. Defendant, not Victim v. Perpetrator. So why do I think Will Smith should be prosecuted? It’s because of a very misunderstood Bible passage.
Deuteronomy 19:15 ESV says, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” After a brief note on malicious witnesses, the passage continues in verse 21. “Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
The requirement to have multiple witnesses protects the integrity of the system, and so does the discussion of punishments. Please don’t run out and poke anyone’s eyes out! What Moses is saying is that the punishment should fit the crime. The system, along with people, shouldn’t be abused.
I don’t want Will Smith to lose everything he has spent his life building, but I also don’t want him to avoid legal consequences either.
There were more than enough witnesses to establish a charge against Will. There are no false accusations here. I don’t want him held accountable in a spirit of revenge, but to show others the importance of respecting laws established by the government. Remember that point. It will be important in just a minute.
Does “Your eye shall not pity” sound harsh? Let’s consider it as an invitation to distribute justice equally. There should be consequences for everyone’s actions, even people who are popular, influential, or affluent. Justice should not play favorites. Considering the rest of the passage, are you concerned I want Chris Rock to slap Will back?
Don’t be. I’ve read the Sermon on the Mount. I know in Matthew 5:39b, Jesus says, “... But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Right on point, as we say when citing man’s laws. And this is where we have to pause for a moment. Jesus taught that the wronged individual should not take personal revenge. That’s God’s job (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19 NLT). Don’t worry. Earthly justice concerns God’s as well. He calls for us to have rules and people to enforce corrective actions. I realize our system often focuses more on punishing behavior than correcting it - that’s a blog for another time. Our government must respond when people break its rules (Romans 13:1-7, NLT).
We need the system to hold Will Smith accountable for the sake of justice, and to show those who might copy his actions that society won’t tolerate it. Whether or not you feel Chris Rock's joke was inappropriate or hurtful, he didn’t deserve to be battered and publicly humiliated for it. If we blame him for somehow bringing “The Slap” upon himself, aren’t we engaging in the worst form of victim-blaming? If we are thinking, “Why did he have to say that?” it starts sounding an awful lot like, “Why was she wearing that?”
That's just another slap in the face that victims of crime and our society don’t need.
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