“our own experience” is not justification

The quest to rationalize and defend George Zimmerman in his acquittal in the of killing Trayvon Martin is underway. With great mental gymnastics, America’s editorilists have set about dismissing the culpability of George Zimmerman. Acquitted of charges, Juror B37 assures us Zimmerman’s heart was in the right place. Zimmerman was responding to a uniform we all recognize, a hooded sweatshirt on a black youth. As such, Richard Cohen can understand.  The death of the teenage boy in this case is a tragedy, everyone agrees. But not a tragedy. Martin’s death saddens all, but it’s not a crime, and those who would make it one ignore the rules of ‘civilized society.’

Everyone on that night in Florida was right, Kathleen Parker tells us, within his or her own experience. This includes both the teenager on the phone and the man who pulled the trigger and killed that teenager. Right within his own experience.

The time has arrived to let our own experience fall away and to seek out other experiences. Any person can use his or her own experiences to justify anything one chooses to do. This is what personal experience means. In Kindergarten we start learning why this justification fails. Time and again individuals do not do that which is “right within his or her own experience.” We do not  behave in that manner because humans are capable of empathy. In empathy one finds a path outside ourselves, to a more rich and complicated set of experiences, that allows us to act “right” on behalf of others’ experiences, too.

We owe more than defensiveness and justification to the always rising death-toll that accompanies the too common story of young black men killed. The death of Trayvon Martin was not a wrong-place at the wrong-time mishap. Martin’s death is not just one of those things. If an individual’s decision to walk to a store to buy candy leads to the shooting death of that person, someone is at fault. If the sight of a person walking in the night leads to a pursuit, struggle, and another corpse offered to the handgun altar, we should not simply say: everyone was right. “Everyone was right” is a cold and psychopathic vision of a society unleashed, unconcerned with empathy, seeking to defend rather than understand.

Rare is the night in this country when a young black man is shot to death and our rationalizations have been less convincing.

No one should rest comfortably on the claim that Martin’s sweatshirt makes the case for Zimmerman’s vigilantism. Not only is such a claim stupid, it’s filled with fear and  removes our capacity, and desire, to empathize. There’s no comfort to be found in the meaningless statement that Zimmerman’s heart was in the right place when he stalked Martin in the dark. That the jury has spoken, and sad as we are all, there’s no crime to be found in killing an unarmed teenager. Of course we all have our own personal experiences. Do we really believe that when things get intense in our lives, our behaviors are justified by “everyone was doing what was right?”

One sign that everyone is doing what is right is this: there is no body count.

This is Trayvon Martin 7 months before he was killed. His death, we are assured, is not a crime.


One response to ““our own experience” is not justification

  1. I wish I could like this 10 times instead of just once. Empathy is the most important ability we have has humans, and it’s often the most ignored. It requires work to empathize with another person, and most people couldn’t care less.

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