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Our Power, Our Responsibility
Justice is arbitrary. Sure, there’s the widely accepted definition of giving each their due. And sure, court systems may resolve publicized and widely accepted categories of crime to promote justice. But individual justice, the way people treat each other, the acceptance or lack thereof people express—that justice is often untried, biased, and ironically unjust.
When I read “I will Never Know Why,” a reflection by Susan Klebold of the crimes and aftermath of Columbine, I sympathized with her. And then I mentally scolded myself for sympathizing.
Klebold’s son was involved in the Columbine incident. But he was not a victim. He was the murderer.
I questioned why I sympathized with the mother who had raised a murderer, a woman who had the power to reverse a devastating tragedy for so many people.
When the Columbine incident was introduced to my English class sophomore year, we discussed to whom, other than the murderers themselves, the fault of Columbine should be attributed, and I was one of my many classmates who blamed the murderers’ parents. Reading Klebold’s essay, however, made me realize that behind every accusation lie deeper issues that the accuser fails to consider. I realized the Columbine tragedy negatively affected not only those who would come to despise Dylan Klebold and his co-perpetrator Eric Harris, but also those close to them.
Reactions to Klebold’s essay included derogatory remarks and relentless blame on blogs and in the media. It is obvious that people still blame her. It is easy to place blame on the "obvious criminal,” the one who society would normally blame, who in this case is Susan Klebold. But just because it is easy does not make the blame just. The bias in the way people treat each other has made me realize how little justice can be taken for granted when it comes to personal issues.
It is so easy to place blame before considering. This blame is dangerous, for no matter how inconsequential individual justices may seem, they expand into something more malevolent when fostered.
To Kill a Mockingbird presents a fictional but realistic portrayal of how individual injustices can grow. Individual injustices plagued the small town of Maycomb, causing good people to be unjustly treated. Boo Radley treated the children Jem and Scout well, but the townspeople never once tried to sympathize with him because of actions he was provoked to by the emotional damage inflicted upon him by his father. Ready criticism plagued his name, rumors spreading so that nobody dared to help him, to express any concern over his wellbeing.
The issue of racial injustice also seeps into this novel. Tom Robinson, an innocent man accused of rape, is indicted for a crime he has never committed simply because a white woman who has the backing of the entire town accuses him. The townspeople back her not because they believe Tom is guilty, but because he, in their minds, is the “obvious criminal.” Racial bias taints their sense of justice.
The injustice with which African-Americans were viewed during the era in fact actually began with small criticisms but grew into a monster of injustice. Individual injustice is malignant, and if not eradicated early after its birth, it pervades minds and becomes greater evils of discrimination, immoral actions.
The Holocaust came about because of this.
When Mrs. Gerda Weissman Klein spoke of her experiences living in concentration camps during the Holocaust, she had hoped that we, students blessed with boundless lives, would carry on the stories of those who had lost their own. Her speech left me with an aura of invincibility, with the optimistic thoughts that even I, a mere high school student, could change the future. This aura dissipated upon my facing once again a teeming hallway of students, some joking of ethnicity and religion with contempt and scorn.
Individual discrimination causes well-meaning people to shrivel towards blatant injustice. Klein experienced betrayal from lifelong friends who fell to prejudice. Individual injustices broke even the strong bonds of friendship.
It is not only the Holocaust that proves the malignant direction in which individual injustice can evolve. Genocide erupted in Darfur in 2003, and six years later, the death count is 300,000, with 2.6 million displaced and an unknown number of girls and women silently suffering from abduction, rape and abuse. Three-hundred thousand is a number which means nothing in my mind, for I cannot begin to picture the vastness of the number. But when I imagine one life, I see potential, and 300,000 lives were robbed of that potential. Nearly seven decades have passed since the Holocaust occurred, but cases like Darfur prove justice is not guaranteed and still arbitrary. One person’s “justice” can be another person’s death.
Careless dismissal of Susan Klebold as the mother of a murderer may seem insignificant when compared to the racial discrimination that permeated the US for many centuries before action to reverse the injustice took place. The case of Susan Klebold may seem trivial when compared to the Holocaust, when compared to genocide in Darfur.
If we reflect upon the roots of those tragedies, however, the reactions to Klebold’s story gain significance. Racial discrimination began with the unjust portrayal of African-Americans as inferior, as somehow less than people. The Holocaust began with individuals scapegoating Jews for their problems. Genocide in Darfur began with discrimination towards certain groups of people.
At first I myself wanted to blame Susan Klebold and then condemned myself for that seed of sympathy threatening to grow when I read her personal account. I was unjust. It is easy to criminalize Susan Klebold. But just because it is easy to place blame does not justify the blame.
And so I am less adamant against sympathizing with Susan Klebold. Justice is arbitrary, but every individual can give each their due. We can reduce injustice as individuals. We can quell the potential harm injustice poses. Every individual has not only the power to consider another person’s circumstances and point-of-view, but also the responsibility.