Wednesday, April 24, 2013

People suck except when they don't: What the Boston bombing and the Central Park 5 teach us about good and evil

I said I wasn't going to write anything about the Boston marathon tragedy because I wasn't sure if I could add anything to the conversation. Two sociopaths killed and maimed unsuspecting innocent people just trying to enjoy the Boston marathon, including a child, in the name of religion. Tragic and horrible, but unfortunately, not uncommon. The lazy media tries to pin the horrific crime on the "dark-skinned", and the perpetrators turn out to be two evil white guys. Ridiculous and infuriating, but all TOO common. As I watched the cries and screams of victims on television morph into cheers when the surviving bomber was captured, I was reminded of a fundamental yet frustrating and unsatisfying truth: People are terrible, except when they are not.

Common sense, right? Of course that good and evil are constantly in play on an intellectual level, but sometimes we need an event or some other reminder to shake us out of our mental haze and force us to examine ourselves and how we treat one another.

When watching the coverage of the Boston tragedy, I  thought a lot about the heartbreaking Central Park Five documentary I saw days earlier. For background, in 1989 a white female jogger was brutally beaten and raped in Central Park. Five Black and Latino teenagers were arrested, and in a complete and utter miscarriage of justice, were sent to prison for YEARS for a crime they did not commit. All but one of the teens spent seven years in jail. The oldest spent 13 years in jail. To this day, New York City refuses to settle a lawsuit brought by the Five, who are now in their mid to late-30s, and the prosecutors still maintain that the Five were guilty even though a serial rapist later admitted to the crime. So, the injustice of the Central Park Five situation rages on.

What does this have to do with Boston? Near the end of the documentary, a historian articulated a simple and profound lesson about what happened: "We're not very good people."

Preach! It's not a stretch to believe that a mix of racism, bad timing, lazy law enforcement, ambitious prosecutors, fear, and inflamed rhetoric from politicians can ruin the lives of young Black men, or any person of color for that matter. The Five lost their youth, have struggled to reconstruct their lives, and no one has said they're sorry or tried to make the situation right. Yes, people suck. We're horrible.

And then Boston happened and of course it started with evil and devastation, which was just confirmation of what I've always known, people SUCK! But then, you saw the heroism and the outpouring of kindness and compassion toward the victims and the city of Boston. Well, maybe people in general aren't completely awful. 

We see this dichotomy all the time whether it's Boston, Katrina, Central Park, Sandy Hook, Chicago, Innocence Project success stories, or your city block, this contrast between compassion, kindness and selflessness and astonishing evil. How can we help our fellow man one minute and then destroy him the next? Why are we like this? Would we know what good looks like if it weren't for evil?

I don't have the answers to any of these questions, and I'm guessing that you don't either. If anything, we need to start dialogues and do things that promote peace and not pain.        

Stay random,


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