Another Floridian’s untimely death.
But this article isn’t about the tragedy. It’s about the response to it. And in regards to this, one word comes to mind: revenge.
On the USA Today website, the story of Robert Champion’s hazing death was what you’d expect: details about the event (him being beaten by hazers in his band), the charges that were made against the hazers (hazing by death 3rd degree felony up to 6 years in prison), and reactions from legal experts and Champion’s family.
The reactions were also what you’d expect. In hearing that the hazers were facing up to 6 years, USA Today wrote, “Champion’s mother, Pam Champion, said she’s disappointed the defendants weren’t charged with offenses that carry longer sentences.”
I understand this sentiment—to the degree that I can, me having no children. But if someone killed one of my brothers or my sister, in my emotional state, I’d want the perpetrator to really have it.
I also watched the AP video attached to the USA Today article. It featured law professor/former prosecutor, Tamara Lave. She also expressed her disappointment that prosecutors in this case didn’t try for tougher charges. I guess I can understand this, as well. After all, she is a former prosecutor.
Then I got to the bottom of the article and read the comments. The gist of revenge became dominant:
“At the very least punish those responsible to the full extent of existing laws.”
“It better result in jail time!! And a lot of it! They MURDERED this poor kid for no other reason than to just be f@#$ing idiots!”
“This is like mob mentality they should all serve major time in prison all of them!”
Yes, I know commenters are known for being brash at times, but this is no anomaly. This is America.
Most people don’t like to admit they are vengeful, but when you look at a case like this and boil down the reactions, you’ll see that the idea of justice has long since been evaporated. Yet under its guise people seek to add harm and pain to an already terrible situation by making the perpetrators suffer.
When you have your sights set on seeing someone suffer, when you feel satisfaction that another is suffering, that isn’t justice. It’s revenge.
Justice is about righting wrongs committed, about doing whatever’s possible to give back what you took. Of course, one can’t take back a death, but in this case whatever can be done by the perpetrators—monetary compensation, advocate against hazing, any good they can do to add consolation to this tragedy—is made impossible behind bars.
I’m not against jails. It may be the appropriate place for the offenders if they are truly dangerous people and a threat to society. Trouble is, there’s little room for a discussion about safety or justice as defined above because vengeance is a much more impassioned plea.
Think about it: it’s so normal to conflate justice and revenge that we equate the punishment of the offender with the worth of the person offended. The prosecutor, Tamara Lave, said in the video regarding the charges sought, “it seems to me, like, Mr. Champion’s life was worth more than that.” Since when did we equate people’s worth with how we avenge them?—as if Mr. Champion’s life was worthless otherwise.
When a tragedy has occurred we should recognize the pain and damage caused, and instead of simply reacting to it with calls for eye for an eye, we should decide how to best move forward—to heal the wounds. You’d be surprised how infrequently this includes jail.
Again, if safety is a concern, put the perpetrators in jail. But if they aren’t a threat, have them pay for funeral expenses, seek counseling for their emotional problems allowing for—and certainly as a result of—killing a man, and live their lives to help make up—in the best they can—for the terrible thing they’ve done.
That would be justice.
—Photo credit: Kevin Coles/Flickr