Chasing Justice - By Danielle Stewart


The world is full of terrible people. I’m sure you’ve heard that before, maybe even said it yourself. But when you say the “world” you don’t mean your world. You’re not thinking about your supermarket, your children’s school, the place you work. You’re thinking about those big cities with those big problems, not your neighborhood.

This kind of talk makes me sound paranoid, and maybe I am. But I’m also right. I know the pedophile blurs into the role of coach. The violent sex offenders deliver your mail or bag your groceries. So often we find out too late the laws that are meant to protect the innocent instead shield the offenders. There was a small window of time in my life when I thought I could be one of the “good guys,” and I use the term lightly as I happen to be a woman. I believed I could follow the letter of the law and still take part in cleaning this world up a little. But I was wrong. You can’t do things the right way and still win when the villains have no code. The only way to get anything done is to be just as wicked, but with righteous intentions.

My ideals aren’t something I’ve formed half-heartedly. They’ve been forged like steel, burned in a fiery pit and then hammered relentlessly. I’ve been hurt. I’ve faced death. I’ve made many mistakes. My spirit was broken and I believed the only way I could repair myself was to knock a little piece of evil off this planet.

One afternoon, as I stared outside, I came face to face with my opportunity. I had left my window slightly open so the breeze could balance the stale, recycled feeling of the air conditioner. Late summer in North Carolina was usually humid and stagnant, but I remember on that day the wind was moving nicely through the trees. I had hoped it would blow new life into me.

The rear of my townhouse faced an alley where an Italian restaurant backed up to the bank. Out the back door of the restaurant stepped a man familiar enough for me to take notice, but not so much that I could place him. From behind him came a girl, who even from the distance, I could see was half woman and half child. She was dressed in mismatched clothing not suited for her age.

The two looked like a peculiar pair. They were clearly not father and daughter, not student and teacher. There was something about their demeanor, the way the man was moving with force and the girl creeping behind him timidly, that made my skin break out in goose bumps. Something was not right.

Suddenly the man turned on his heels to face the girl. He cocked back his fist and before she could even raise her hands to protect herself he struck her hard across the face. The girl stifled a yelp as her hands rushed to her nose which had instantly begun bleeding. She slouched forward, and the man straightened her by grabbing the loose ponytail on the back of her head. He leaned in close and hissed into her face. “You don’t get to talk to me here. You don’t get to know me here. This is my real life and you are a whore who I screw when I feel like it. If you ever approach me in public again I will end you, and there isn’t a soul in this world who would even know you were gone. No one misses a fourteen-year-old hooker.” He tugged again at her hair to make sure she understood, and she nodded through the pain. In a moment of clarity I suppose, the man looked over his shoulder to see if anyone had been within earshot. I ducked back behind my curtains. As he turned again toward her I realized where I had seen the salt and pepper in his hair, the lines on his red doughy face, the roundness of his bulbous nose.

He looked different without his black robe but there was no doubt—he was a judge whose courtroom I had sat in while shadowing a lawyer a few weeks earlier. There he was standing in an alley beating an underage prostitute who had the unfortunate judgment of addressing him outside the confines of whatever seedy motel they usually frequented. This man of stature and prominence in our community was a sex offender.

Any reasonable person would stop what she was doing and immediately call the