There’s a strange dichotomy in our country these days between lightening-fast social change and the continuation of archaic and primitive beliefs. Honestly, every last human being on this planet needs the very same things. Not everyone is content to stop at what they simply need, certainly, and much more importantly not everyone will concede that all their neighbors also deserve the very same things; this is part of the troublesome place in which we find ourselves these days. But the flood gates for parity among humans really do seem to be opening; the recent victories for gay marriage gift us hope and seem to indicate a critical mass has been reached. Now, if we could only see the same forward movement when it came to these insidious, deep and invisible biases when it comes to race and color of skin.
While I don’t believe that justice was served in the outcome of the recent Trayvon Martin case, I also don’t believe – deep down in my very core – that throwing his murderer in jail, while perhaps the best by-the-books outcome, would serve to advance the cause which is at the very root of this problem. Also, I find myself rather surprised, when reading all the Facebook comments about the injustice that’s occurred, that the commentors are expressing themselves in a tone of hatred that seems equally as inhumane as the sentiment of the race-based bias they’re objecting to. I understand the frustration these people are expressing – and I share that frustration – but then to blindly swing the other way and demand figurative blood from the other side – that gets us nowhere. A strange feeling comes over me as I take it all in – there’s a creepy, subversive taste to the sentiments folks are expressing. I’m reminded of the book we were required to read as middle schoolers… In The Lottery, a small, all-American town attributes its comfortable way of life to the annual sacrifice of one of the town children. Each year there is a lottery – very much like that in The Hunger Games – in which a child is chosen, and then ultimately stoned to death by his or her own townsfolk. I can’t be the only person feeling like this. Feeling that in our fevered desire for equanimity we’re losing sight of the forest for the trees. Are we not perpetrating the very thing we are espousing to go against? Are we not all feeding into a mass-mindset of eye-for-an-eye? Are we not resorting to primitive resolutions – needless sacrifices – in order to achieve our goals?
I’m convinced that simply incarcerating people guilty of certain crimes does nothing to prevent the said criminals – or others – from continuing to repeat the same or similar crimes. I do now understand, after having become friends with some folks who’ve actually worked inside state prisons, that there are some criminals who are beyond remorse, beyond rehabilitation – criminals whose actions are the result of any combination of nature and nurture – and they truly should be separated out from the population. And while I believe that this George Zimmerman fellow who shot Trayvon (and must deep inside his heart believe that he was justified) would do well to be ‘taught a lesson’, I think the larger issue is not necessarily to punish or incarcerate this man, but rather to begin work on transforming him and those who think as he does. If we can step back for a moment and turn down the heat of our emotions, why is it that we would want to see such a person behind bars? To ‘show’ him? To make a statement? Or to help bring about his remorse? To simply see justice served? Or, maybe, to help re-define for our culture what is acceptable and what’s not? That is my hoped-for objective at the end of the day. I ask those who angrily demand justice: will his incarceration actually do much to advance the cause of equal rights? I understand Trayvon’s grieving family might crave this man’s imprisonment, but what, as a society, do we really gain from it?
I realize too that it’s far too easy for me to make such sweeping assumptions about justice and the futility of our system, but it’s precisely because I’m not emotionally wound up in it that I can dare to give voice to my feelings. I can already feel the grumbling response to this post growing. Yes, some will say I have a naive take on things, that nothing’s as simple as all that. Yeah, I get that. But I also get that our system does little to improve situations. Our comfort with locking people up – and not addressing the reasons or cultural climate that gave birth to the crime in the first place – that is the shit that bothers me greatly. We all love the drama of a good crime story – but one upon another they’re quickly forgotten. We don’t learn anything of substance about why the perpetrator did what he/she did, what socio-economic or mental health issues may have been involved… nothing of substance ever seems to come to light, and if it’s mentioned, it’s certainly not investigated with any rigor. So we lock em up. That’ll show em who’s right. Yeah, ok. But what then? Have we fixed anything? All we’ve done is to take a moral stand. We’ve talked the talk, but beyond that, there’s not a lot of walking goin on.
As I pulled up to the local convenience store today, I saw a small sticker on the wall. On it was the shape of our country, and the text in the middle read “I miss America” (strangely, it was printed in yellow and black.) Given the mostly conservative and somewhat redneck climate of my immediate neighborhood, I got the message. And it occurred to me that those who would put up such a slogan might be feeling as if Mr. Zimmerman was exercising his inalienable right to self-defense in that brutal act. Where I live, there’s just no room for any conversation on such matters. Truths are black and white (or black and yellow) and no one in my neck of the woods is changing their minds any time soon. This breaks my heart. I can only hope that little by little the inevitable changes moving through the cultures of our entire world will soon wash over these people too. And I hope too that somehow, one day – maybe still a century off, but I so hope not – our very legal system will also change to reflect a larger vision of human truth. Because the main issue here is the establishment of balance between every single citizen of this globe. While we bicker amongst ourselves about rules and laws and meting out punishments commensurate with their crimes, we might just be missing the larger point. I realize we have to start somewhere, but I hope we pick up speed as we move towards our common goal. I pray one day everyone sharing this planet might have the peace of mind and heart to know they are truly living in a world of love, respect and justice for all.