Justice, Revenge, And The Tragedy Of Robert Champion

Another Floridian’s untimely death.

But this article isn’t about the tragedy. It’s about the response to it. And in regards to this one word comes to mind: revenge.

On the USA Today website, the story of Robert Champion’s hazing death was what you’d expect: details about the event (him being beaten by hazers in his band), the charges that were made against the hazers (hazing by death 3rd degree felony up to 6 years in prison), and reactions from legal experts and Champion’s family.

The reactions were also what you’d expect. In hearing that the hazers were facing up to 6 years, the USA Today wrote, “Champion’s mother, Pam Champion, said she’s disappointed the defendants weren’t charged with offenses that carry longer sentences.”

I understand this sentiment—to the degree that I can, me having no children. But if someone killed one of my brothers or my sister, I’d want them to have it, too.

I also watched the AP video attached to the USA Today article. It featured law professor/former prosecutor, Tamara Lave. She also expressed her disappointment that prosecutors in this case didn’t try for tougher charges. I guess I can understand this, as well. After all, she is a former prosecutor.

Then I got to the bottom of the article and read the comments. The gist of revenge was dominant:

“At the very least punish those responsible to the full extent of existing laws.”

“It better result in jail time!! And a lot of it! They MURDERED this poor kid for no other reason than to just be f@#$ing idiots!”

“This is like mob mentality they should all serve major time in prison all of them!”

Yes, I know commenters are known for being brash at times, but this is no anomaly. This is Amerca.

Most people don’t like to admit they are vengeful, but when you look at a case like this and boil it down, you’ll see that the idea of justice has long since been evaporated. Yet under its guise people seek to add harm and pain to an already terrible situation by way of making the perpetrators suffer.

When you have your sights set on seeing someone suffer, when you feel satisfaction that another is suffering, that isn’t justice. It’s revenge.

Justice is about righting wrongs committed, about paying back what you took. It’s pretty hard to do any of this behind bars.

Jail may be just the place for the offenders, but it shouldn’t be because we think it’s what they deserve. It should be about keeping us safe. Trouble is, there’s no room for a discussion about safety or actual justice because vengeance is a much more impassioned plea.

Think about it: it’s so normal to conflate justice and revenge that we equate the punishment of the offender with the worth of the person offended. The prosecutor, Tamara Lave, said in the video regarding the charges sought, “it seems to me, like, Mr. Champion’s life was worth more than that.”

Since when did we equate people’s worth with how we avenge them? –as if Mr. Champion’s life was worthless otherwise.

When a tragedy has occurred, instead of asking: how much should we make the perpetrators suffer? We should ask: how can we best move forward? Will the overall situation improve if we throw the perpetrators in jail, make them unproductive, ruin their lives, and continue to add to the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world?

Again, I’m not against jail, but we should use it for the right reasons, consider how much our need for revenge is worth, and look for ways to improve upon a bad situation rather than adding more suffering.

We seem to care more about payback than we do safety and healing.

We seem to care more about avenging than about honoring the life lost.

What say you?