“Where be these enemies?. . .
See what a scourge is laid upon your hate. . .
all are punish’d.”
Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, scene 3
Well, that’s what it has been termed by some in the media. But I kind of think the word “tragedy” is a bit worn out–a trite-ism at this point. Of course, you know I’m referring to the George Z.-Trayvon murder–and the subsequent trial. Nah, more like an American travesty. No, better yet, a great American sadness—maybe the Great Depression would be better employed in describing our present societal malaise instead of the economy of the 1930s. The American Tragedy is, well. . .America.
I very deliberately tried paying scant attention to the whole sordid mess–it’s just so upsetting, and I understand far too well my tendency to get angry about things that are not my concern in a very un-Christlike fashion. But you can’t escape the yammering on and on. This week various Fb “friends” have been crowing about the verdict, and then yesterday I went to work out and it was on most of the TVs at the gym. And so I watched a few min of CNN trying to make it out to be an example of racism. Anderson Cooper was trying his best with Juror 37 to make it seem like a case of racial profiling, but she wasn’t cooperating and he seemed disturbed by that. And then after the interview the talking heads all agreed that she was in the hip pocket of the defense from the get-go.
Monday morning I made the mistake of listening to a few min of talk radio on my way to and from the office. I listened to about three min of some guy sitting in for Glenn Beck and then later about five min of Rush. Predictably, they and the callers agreed heartily with the verdict. Mr. Z was within his rights to kill Trayvon because his life was threatened. More yada, yada.
I hate to get technical about it not being a “tragedy” but the whole concept of tragedy we owe to the ancient Greeks. A tragedy necessitated a “hero”–a protagonist with a tragic flaw–usually the crime of “hubris.” Hubris being sort of a stiff-necked pride. There were no heroes in this drama, and the only hubris I noticed were in the little mini-dramas acted out by the defense attorneys and the faux outrage of some of the talking heads in the media. Well, then again, there might have been an element of hubris in the main characters’ decision to confront one another.
Two other elements of tragedy are “Fate” and the idea that the drama is cathartic for the audience. Anyway, that’s all Greek to me. If you’re a Jesus-follower you don’t believe in Fate, and for believers there should be nothing cathartic in a murder and all the inflamed emotions and rhetoric that follow. We know from studies on anger that feeling anger in a cathartic fashion only begets more anger–sort of like throwing gasoline on a fire. And sadly, the back and forth discharges of anger will continue in the media until some bigger story pushes it to the back burner.
To me, what makes the whole thing a travesty is that the outcome is so typical of our American justice system. Money usually buys “justice” in the U.S.A. George Z. does not come from a wealthy, connected family, but they used the media to solicit enough donations to buy competent counsel. The prosecution, based on what I’ve read, was fairly incompetent. For one thing, they over-reached in going for second degree murder. That mistake has always struck me as typical of district attorneys. It might work when they’re up against a public defender, but against seasoned private defense attorneys they’re out of their league. Had they gone for manslaughter, I think George would be facing a few years in the slammer. He was surely guilty of something. That is basically what happened in the Casey Anthony case–had the prosecution gone for manslaughter she would likely be in jail. She reeked of guilt, but the jury could not find her guilty of premeditated first degree murder. In three high-profile cases that preoccupied the media–O.J. Simpson, back in ’96, and the two recent ones that central Florida had the distinct ignominy to host, justice was bought.
Way back in 1969, when I saw the Franco Zefirelli vesion of Romeo and Juliet, I was struck by the line in the Prince’s speech, “all are punish’d.” The stage was littered with bodies, and that was his summation of the fruit of the hate between the families Capulet and Montague. I was not a Christian at the time and the line struck me as being about our existential condition. Today, I am a Jesus-follower but the line still rings true–and in the Trayvon/George Z case I find it painfully true.
Okay, but if you are a Jesus-follower, is the Trayvon/George Z case really any of your concern? You weren’t selected for the jury, were you? To my reading of scripture, it all is just another form of gossip, but like most I feel compelled to have an opinion–to weigh in on it with my peers and so I contribute to the endless, senseless yada yada–and I wonder what part of spiritual warfare the controversy encompasses. The self-righteous wrath that captures me from time to time is certainly not one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
For me, perhaps the only upside of the whole mess is that a coaltition of local pastors prayed mightily for there to be peace and healing in our community–and there pretty much has been. I live just 12 miles up the road from Sanford and I gather things have been fairly quiet there. Now, if they’d just do some prayin’ for California. . .