This week, Americans from across the country have been demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.
Based on the facts as I know them, I believe George Zimmerman should be arrested. Based on the facts as I know them, I believe the Sanford, Florida police mishandled the shooting at the scene. Based on the facts as I know them, I believe there are many people who need to be held accountable for the shooting of an unarmed, 17-year old student.
I do not believe that any of these things will bring justice for Trayvon, or his loved ones. No matter what happens to Zimmerman or to any of the police or city officials involved in his case, Trayvon will remain, tragically, irrevocably, unjustifiably slain. The justice we seek is for us, not for Trayvon.
This desire to set the world right and find justice for ourselves is powerful. Psychologists have studied the “just world theory” and have found that people’s belief in a just world helps explain how they react to innocent victims of negative life circumstances. People become frustrated when presented with stories of victims who suffer through little fault of their own: like a teenage boy gunned down for no reason. (To learn more about "just world theory," read Melvin Lerner’s "The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion.")
They can deal with this frustration in two ways: they can conclude that the world is an unjust place or they can decide that the victim is somehow to blame. Here is what’s interesting: most people reconcile their psychological distress by blaming the victim. Even when we know that suffering is undeserved, it is psychologically easier to blame the victim rather than give up the idea that the world is basically fair. If you have noticed the new comments of some observers of Trayvon's case then you have seen this victim blaming beginning, as though his hoodie somehow justifies his death.
But here is the other thing researchers learned: if people are given a way to compensate the victim, to somehow make the world seem fair again through their own actions, then they could avoid blaming the victim. The pressure to remove Sanford police chief Bill Lee and to arrest and prosecute Zimmerman falls into this second category. We want to find some way to put right again the crooked, upside world where children are killed on their way home with candy.
This weekend on "MHP," we will continue to follow the Trayvon Martin story. We will talk to experts, to citizens, to journalists, and to survivors. We will try to make sense of the senseless, to place the tragedy in some context, and ask if there is anything we can do to reduce the likelihood that this will happen again.
But at the end of our shows, after we wrap, turn off the studio lights, and head home, Trayvon will still be gone. And nothing can ever make that just. Learning to sit with the discomfort of that reality is part of what we all must learn to do.
Tune in this weekend.