Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Do Trayvon's Imperfections Mean He Doesn't Deserve Justice?

Has your perception of Trayvon Martin changed recently? Did the pictures of him with a grill in his mouth, the knowledge that he was suspended for having a plastic baggie w/trace amounts of marijuana make you think of him as a “thug”? It turns out that he’s bigger than he looked in the earliest released pictures of him, does that make you think differently of what happened the night that he died?

I think one of the questions we have to ask ourselves is, “Does a person need to be completely innocent in order to deserve justice?” I sure hope not, otherwise I’m SOL if something bad happens to me. We play a dangerous game when we decide someone isn’t worthy of receiving justice – or even due process to begin with – because of things they’ve done in their past (no matter how recent that past is). Where do we draw the line with this sort of reasoning, and who makes that decision?

Does Trayvon’s suspension, or his grill, or what he said on Facebook/Twitter change what happened the night he died? Does it change the fact that he was unarmed? Does it change the fact that he was breaking no laws by walking through a residential neighborhood? Does it change the fact that the police dispatcher advised Zimmerman not to approach Trayvon, but he did so anyway? Does it change the fact that the police still haven’t arrested Zimmerman?

No, these things haven’t caused facts to change. They have, however, changed some people’s minds about whether Trayvon deserves justice. While this is unfortunate, it’s also pretty normal. We feel sympathetic to people when we identify with them, and we tend to have less sympathy when we perceive them as being “bad” or “other” in some way. What “bad” means is subjective and different for every person.

Natalee Holloway was drunk the night she was killed. Was she bad? Did she not deserve justice?

I knew a guy who was killed by accident when his friend was messing around with a gun. This was at a party where teens were drinking underage (i.e. illegally). He was not nice to me and was a bit of a bully. Was he bad? Did he not deserve justice?

JFK cheated on his wife. Was he bad? Did he not deserve justice?

A person might scare us, they might look like something we can’t stand. They may be a jerk or promiscuous or dishonest or obnoxious. They may be involved in something illegal. They may make their living by stirring up drama and conflict. That does not mean they should be afforded any less a chance at justice than anyone else.

Whatever Trayvon was involved in, whomever he was, does not change the fact that his death did not need to happen and was not deserved. If a week ago, you believed that what happened to Trayvon was unfair and that justice must be served, then you should believe that now. It was not Trayvon’s responsibility to us to be perfect and living up to our personal standards of “good”. Rather, it is our responsibility to Trayvon – and imperfect people everywhere – to uphold legal and ethical standards of justice. You may like and identify with Trayvon less, but that doesn’t mean he deserved to die.

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