Hoodies have been in the news recently. The hoodie has always been one of my favourite articles of clothing. When I was a kid it was the zip up hoodie that seemed to always complete my wardrobe. As I've aged, the pullover hoodie takes the day. Of course, it's probably pretty obvious that this post isn't about fashion. To wear a hoodie, to not wear a hoodie, it makes little difference in the grand scheme of things. The hoodie hasn't been in the news because Ralph Lauren has introduced a new world changing garment. The hoodie has been in the news because it was the clothing of choice for a young man who was tragically killed.
Regardless of one's political leanings, regardless of one's thoughts on the legal verdict of George Zimmerman's trial, there should be no argument that the death of Trayvon Martin is a tragedy. A young man is dead who should be alive. In the past few days and months much has been written regarding the outcome of the Zimmerman trial. I, of course, have opinions, but they are irrelevant here. Regardless of whether or not George Zimmerman had been found guilty of murder or manslaughter, a young man would still remain dead.
The American judicial system is inarguably imperfect- probably broken (even if not entirely so). The brokenness of the system is made manifest in the verdicts of certain trials (depending on one's own point of view), but it is actually much deeper: simultaneously more subtle and more egregious. The brokenness of the judicial system is evident in the fact that it claims to be a system of justice. Justice is purported to be blind, to be absent objectivity, to have a "God's-Eye View." Justice, it is claimed, is based on facts, on rationality, and stands transcendent over the much of the world. Of course, nobody actually believes that this is so, but it is an open secret, never to be spoken of. In practice, this "justice" is primarily retributive. Justice is a system of prescriptive punishment. Justice is bound by sentencing guidelines, even if enacted very differently at the discretion (or the whim) of a judge (who herself may well be an elected official with employment contingent upon the approval of the majority). "Justice" fixes nothing. "Justice" solves nothing. "Justice" heals nothing.
The travesty of the George Zimmerman trial is that, regardless of the outcome, nothing could have changed. Whether or not an individual, the immediate cause of the death of another person, spent part of his life in prison, more people would continue to be killed senselessly. Retributive justice does nothing to break up a cycle of violence. Rather, retributive justice is foundational to a system in which might makes right, to a seemingly inescapable pattern of violence. Moreover, there can be no doubt that the legal system, the arbiter of justice, is itself anything but just. "Justice" isn't blind, and justice certainly doesn't have a "God's-Eye View." To the contrary, the justice system is comprised by individuals who are far from objective (if objectivity can even be said to exist in any sort of profound way). The justice system is comprised by individuals who are bigoted, who are opinionated, and whose thoughts are profoundly subjective. There is no such thing as a "fair" trial because they're is no fairness.
Life is intensely unfair. The situations in which we find ourselves always already thrown into are fairly rigid. We're really not nearly as free as we'd like to believe. All people are not created equal, for the creation of a person is as much the act of the imagination of an other as it is any sort of ontological or empirical reality. Persons are in always in an inescapable cycle of creation- both attempting to (re-) create themselves and being created by others. This is a fact that cannot be comprehended by a justice system which pretends rationality and impartiality. In the face of an unfair world, justice cannot be implemented by either the conviction or acquittal of George Zimmerman.
The good news is that, regardless of one's thoughts on the outcome of Zimmerman's trial, justice is yet possible. Justice does not exist, but can be made manifest. Justice requires us to work to create a world in which justice could exist. While the Trayvon Martin story may not be entirely a story of race, it is at least that. Did George Zimmerman racially profile Trayvon Martin? Of course he did. However, who among us would not have, at least to a degree, done the same? Justice requires honesty, and the honest reality is that, even if we are rightly ashamed of it, we all have gut reactions to our encounters with people based solely on the colour of their skin.
This is the essence of original sin. Our society has propagated the notion that one's skin colour or familial background is itself a meaningful descriptor of one's character. This is not even unique to a white majority. Jesse Jackson famously admitted that, while walking alone at night, upon hearing footsteps behind him, and worrying about being robbed, he is relieved to see a white face behind him. The 'originality' of this sin is found in the fact that it is, at best, unconscious. This original sin is manifest in the "Justice" system as countless stories and sets of data have shown. True justice, then, cannot come from this system. Justice could never have occurred in the Zimmerman trial, regardless of the outcome. True justice can only come with the acknowledgement of our own complicity in the propagation of unconscious racism. By admitting this, and by naming it for what it is, we can begin to reject its power. True justice is not that somebody might be held culpable for the death of Trayvon Martin, but that a world is imagined (and enacted) in which future Trayvon Martins (whether legally "justifiable" or not) are not killed. Did George Zimmerman racially profile Trayvon Martin? Of course he did, but I might have done the same. "Justice" is not blind, but rather she sees black and white very clearly.