Why does it seem like some lives are more worth protecting than others in today’s world? This statement alone is bound to raise some eyebrows as people wait for an attack on our police force or our military. However, the question seems even more valid as time goes on and the news continues to bring us numerous troubling stories over the course of the last few years.
There have been crimes of all different psychological natures: murders, verbal and physical assaults on strangers on the streets, reports of police brutality, rapes and sexual assaults. These, in theory, have little in common. However, many of these cases seem to have a sinister similarity that everyone gives a different name: we choose to blame the victim instead of punishing those committing the crimes. The question is, why?
On August 28, an 8-year-old boy was playing in Claremont, New Hampshire. There were a group of teenagers, all 14-years-old or younger, who began hurling racial slurs at this little boy. The incident culminated in the teens breaking a tire swing off of a rope, placing the rope around the neck of the boy, and pushing him off of the picnic table where they stood.
“These people need to be protected,” Police Chief Mark Chase said. “Mistakes they make as a young child should not have to follow them for the rest of their life.”
So many were outraged by this statement because he was referring to the teenagers who were responsible for this young boy being hung from a tree. This little boy could have died, and yet we are more concerned with the effect it will have on the other children’s lives and how it will haunt them. This is just one most recent example in the news of a person or a group who is responsible for doing something horrific to another human being, and yet we still refuse to hold them accountable for their actions because we wouldn’t want it to ruin their lives.
Brock Turner is another prime example of this sentiment. Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious young woman behind a dumpster. Two Swedish grad students found them, and Turner tried to flee the scene before he was apprehended by one of them. He was later found guilty of three counts of felony sexual assault. Even though the young lady made a Victim Impact Statement directly to Brock Turner in court, he was only sentenced to six months in prison, three years of probation and would have to register as a sex offender.
Some may think to themselves, “Well he’s going to be labeled a sex offender for the rest of his life. Isn’t that enough? Why ruin his life further with a hefty jail sentence?” What about the jail sentence this young man forced on that poor young woman? We don’t think about the constant impact that sexual assault, molestation, and rape have on their victims. Instead, we question victims’ motives, we question their character, we criticize their physical appearance at the time of their attacks, we question their bad decisions. They were asking for it.
What about the shootings and deaths of countless people, specifically black men, by police officers? The officer who killed Philando Castile will likely be haunted by those moments for the rest of his life. However, what about the justice for Castile’s family, who will never see him again? If you type “black man shot by police” there are countless stories of men dying and the officers that shot them being acquitted of their crimes. I am not calling all law enforcement out with this statement, but simply stating something that is truly worrisome about our justice system right now. There seems to be a double standard in numerous cases at this point. While it is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove their cases within a reasonable doubt, why does it seem that even when there are videos of these men being killed, there is still reasonable doubt. It seems to me that there is a sentiment that has floated into the minds of so many Americans that we shouldn’t ruin a person’s life even if they’ve already ruined someone else’s, that they’ve already been through enough.
What about Heather Heyer? She was marching in a peaceful protest against the “Unite the Right” rally that occurred in Charlottesville in August when she was stuck by a car, driven by James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old from Ohio who was described by teachers and classmates after the fact as a Nazi sympathizer who had a “fondness for Adolf Hitler”. In this case, there has not been much defense for Fields after the fact, but there was one very troubling moment after this tragedy occurred. Our own President, the leader of the United States of America, stood in front of a press conference full of journalists, and when questioned about the alt-right group who organized this event, blamed the violence on both sides. This young woman died peacefully walking down a street in Charlottesville where she was hit by a young man who clearly had the intention of causing harm and chaos, if not the ultimate intention of killing some of the leftist protestors. Our own President stood in front of the American people and said that it was everyone’s fault.
This was not everyone’s fault. This was the fault of those who would condone hate speech, those who would idolize a man like Hitler, those who would choose to do harm and to stubbornly stand for their beliefs even if they are deeply harmful to those around them. This was the fault of the young man who sympathized with the people in the “Unite the Right” protest and chose to react in a violent and unforgivable way.
Perhaps we should start looking at the American system and ask ourselves if it truly is damaged at this point. What have we created that lets the perpetrators of unthinkable crimes walk off into the sunset and continue on with their lives? While many of these people will be affected by the court of public opinion, is it okay that so many are not held accountable for their actions by our legal system? When are we going to stand up and fight against victim blaming?
No man or woman is asking for a crime to be committed against them. In most instances, they are targets of at least a deep indifference for others, if not a contempt that reaches out in extreme violence. That’s what this all comes down to. We are so willing to believe that the officers who shot unarmed men were justified in their actions because they feared for their lives. We are so willing to let rapists off with minuscule sentences because “boys will be boys” or because the victims behaviors were somehow “asking for trouble” or, in the case of male rape victims, because they should have been “man enough” to fight the perpetrator off. We are so willing to say that kids make mistakes and shouldn’t have the rest of their lives affected by a horrific “accident”.
When you commit a crime, whatever that crime is, it should stay with you, whether it’s something small or something massive. In a perfect world, people would have enough of a conscience to feel terribly for what they did and take whatever punishment is given to them. That’s not the world we live in, though. All too often, they walk out of these situations and move on with their lives, while the victims and their families are forever affected by these tragic events. We need to find a way to change this and stop blaming these things on “stupid mistakes” and start calling them what they are. They are violent and inexcusable crimes against other human beings and the people who commit them should be held accountable for this violence.