If Will Smith were charged for slapping Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards Sunday evening, he’d face a misdemeanor battery count that carries a penalty of up to six months in a Los Angeles jail. If prosecuted and convicted, he’d likely face a combination of incarceration, probation, and anger management classes.
Retired LAPD deputy chief Stephen Downing explains, “If I were advising Smith, I’d have him voluntarily enroll in anger management classes and write a letter of contrition. The objective would be to convince prosecutors not to bring charges — in the interest of justice — and demonstrate that the defendant has recognized and dealt with his problem."
However coincidentally, Will Smith resigned from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on Friday afternoon with a letter of contrition. His resignation is a direct response to a summons by the Academy’s Disciplinary Committee for violating the academy’s “code of conduct.” It reads:
“My actions at the 94th Academy Awards presentation were shocking, painful, and inexcusable. The list of those I have hurt is long and includes Chris, his family, many of my dear friends and loved ones, all those in attendance, and global audiences at home. I am embarrassed, and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be.” Smith continues. “There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.”
“The letter,” Downing continues, “is textbook. It’ll do the trick.”
The Show Must Go On
Perhaps it was unsettling for 16.6 million viewers (the second worst viewer turnout in Oscar’s televised history) to watch the sequence of events on Sunday night that included Smith assaulting Chris Rock, subsequently accepting an Oscar and summarily receive a standing ovation.
Maybe it was strange to hear him claim the mantle of a protector, comparing himself to his character Richard Williams, “a fierce defender of family.” Stranger still to watch him say he wanted to be “a vessel for love” and “an ambassador of care and concern,” right after the most flagrant outburst of violence in Oscars’ history.
Sure, it was eerie to learn that Smith and his family then danced the rest of the night away at the Vanity Fair party, the triumphant star clutching his statuette. In fact, it all appeared so contrived as to be a calculated publicity stunt, entertainment-industry gaslighting. Did we really see what we thought we saw? More importantly, does it even matter?
Perhaps the Hollywood A-Lister is truly in crisis? Could his consternation over a dig at his wife’s hair loss stem from trauma he experienced as a kid? His 2021 memoir “Will” speaks candidly of abuse his mother encountered by an abusive husband, abuse young Will was powerless to control. “Comedy defuses all negativity,” Smith writes, but what is the outcome of Sunday night’s performance? Is it a revelatory upside of self-evaluation and enlightenment, or the normalization of violence? Either way, nobody was laughing.
Have the lines between society and morality blurred beyond recognition? Lady Justice, the allegorical personification of the moral force in the United States judicial system, is depicted with a set of scales that weigh the strengths of a case's support and opposition. They lack a foundation in order to signify that evidence should stand on its own. Her blindfold represents impartiality, the idea that justice should be applied without regard to wealth, power, or status.
The comedian’s brother Tony Rock says, “Will Smith and Chris haven’t spoken since the incident on Sunday evening," but he does know Chris' reaction to Smith's mea culpa. So will Smith’s formal letter to the academy and Insta apology cut it?
While the application of justice differs in every culture, the American theory was inspired by Plato’s The Republic. Considered to be one of the world's most influential works of philosophy and political theory, the framers of the U.S. Constitution drew from Enlightenment philosophers such as Locke, Hobbes and Rousseau who in turn looked to Plato for inspiration of a just city-state, and a just man.
Hobbes believed justice was an artificial virtue, necessary for civil society, a function of the voluntary agreements of the social contract. For Hume, justice essentially serves public utility by protecting property. Rousseau focused on legislation, protecting the rights of citizens, but only collectively do they seem to capture the essence of The Republic.
For Plato, justice had less to do with legal and political policies he referred to as “meddlesome individualism,” and more to do with self-governance and “the quality of one’s soul.” In Plato’s ideal city-state, each individual holds themselves accountable to their own moral virtue. “While a case can still be brought,” Downing explains, “it’s unlikely as the offender has shown remorse and sought forgiveness. Moreover, the comedian has shown a lot of class."