Friday, December 5, 2014

You Only Die Twice

Buried in all of the acrimony and vitriol surrounding the Michael Brown case was a simple comment that went something along the lines that the Grand Jury, in failing to indict Officer Darren Wilson had shown that Brown was a thug and a violent criminal.

"Wait a minute," I said to myself, "I didn't think that Brown had been on trial here."

But, in a way, the Grand Jury proceedings were about Michael Brown, at least in the eyes of the public. Whether it's about asserting the Black lives matter on the one hand, or that the world is now a better place on the other, these cases become a form of public referendum on the likability of the dead person. Good and worthy people, goes the logic, should trigger accountability if they are wrongly slain.

All of this gave me a new insight into victim-blaming - that it's a form of character assassination carried out in the service of the belief that the world is a safe and predictable place - a place were bad things don't "just happen."

Whether it's the death of a person at the hands of the authorities or the sexual assault of a woman at the hands of a respected member of the community, if bad things only happen to bad people, it stands to reason that people will look for ways to define people that bad things happen to as, well, bad. Which makes sense. If we understand that there are people out there who believe in a Just World, why wouldn't we expect them to defend that belief? Especially if the primary cost of that defense is simply tarring the reputation of a stranger?

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