Friday, April 25, 2008

tragedy and punishment

Three cops open fire on a man named Sean Bell. He dies and later was found to be an innocent man. The three cops opened fire because they believed he was a threat. They got it wrong and Sean died needlessly. This is the definition of tragedy.

But today the courts found the cops innocent. Apparently there was enough reason for the cops to open fire that it was not considered a murder or manslaughter. So while this event is truly a horrible tragedy, the cops were not punished for their mistake.

From what I have heard of the details, I agree with the verdict. The evidence did not support the theory that the cops intended to kill Bell that day. Instead, evidence revealed that while they did make a mistake, their mistake was founded on reasonable split-second decision-making.

But what is interesting is the American tendency in these situations to demand punishment. If there is a tragedy of any kind, we want someone to pay. If someone is wronged, someone else must be punished. This is why our civil courts are jam packed with even the most trivial of cases.

But tragedy does not always mean someone is criminally at fault. We anesthetize ourselves from all forms of pain. And when unjust suffering comes along, we need someone to be punished. When we can't blame another person for our pain, we turn our wrath toward God.

In our world, unjust suffering exists. Blame, punishment, and distance from God doesn't make it better. In most cases, it fosters more injustice. Sometimes unjust suffering is just that. It is unjust and unfair. Suffering is just that. It is painful and gut-wrenching. Sometimes no one is to blame.


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