A lot of noise always surrounds controversial events such as the death of Trayvon Martin and what allegedly happened on the fateful night he was shot. Within weeks, media personalities had begun spouting their opinions based on what they thought happened, whether it was calling for the head of shooter George Zimmerman or claiming that Martin was at fault for wearing a hoodie.
Instead of jumping onto my laptop to write what I initially thought about this case, I decided to take my time. I wanted to see if I would be right.
Do you remember Troy Davis? Some of you do, but I imagine many of you have forgotten him by now. Last semester, protests unfolded across the nation as thousands of people fought repeated denials of clemency for Davis, whose guilt in the murder of police officer Mark MacPhail was widely contested.
We care about something, it fades from the headlines, we don’t. We pay attention to things we want to, ignore others and pick up new things to care about. That is just how things are.
But when we do commit ourselves to a cause, such as an execution or achieving justice for a slain teenager, we must be aware that we are not dealing with an esoteric form or idea. We are dealing with people.
As I hoped, advocacy for the full account of Trayvon Martin’s death and due process for George Zimmerman is underway. I am pleased to see involvement from people close to Martin and all over the country. More than anything, I would not like Trayvon’s story and the reflection it has inspired across the nation to fade away. I am an optimist; I believe we learn in bits and pieces from controversies and progress toward a society that is better than it was before.
However, I am worried about the way we become intertwined in causes out of convenience. For example, take a look at the Kony 2012 movement, which places a spotlight on Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and the atrocities his forces have perpetrated in Uganda and neighboring countries.
The video that sparked the movement was great for awareness, inspiring and educating millions about the conflict in Central Africa and Kony. But some viewers think it portrays the people of Uganda as incapable of dealing with their own conflict. It makes it seem as though they need someone to save them from Kony, who has been inactive in Uganda since the mid-2000s.
The lively state of public discourse should be a beacon of pride for people who are passionate about a given cause. However, without proper knowledge and the ability to take in new information and analysis of the issues we choose to support, we do a disservice to the people involved, and we allow the issues we care about to fade from public discourse even more quickly.
Many advocacy efforts today focus exclusively on disseminating particular perspectives. The people behind those efforts don’t take the time to confront counterpoints and learn about their audience, and they neglect to accumulate facts and present constructive arguments that could be improved over time. Instead, they rely on repetitive mantras and narrow-minded thinking that inevitably turn issues of public discussion into a gridlock of mobilized and uninformed partisans.
By the time we get the full picture, we have moved on to the next thing. Once another controversy happens to catch the slightest bit of steam, widespread calls for justice and accountability will fade, as they always do. Unfortunately, the same advocates who bring these issues to national attention in the first place are often the ones who let them disappear faster than they should. I hope the same doesn’t happen to the cause of justice for Trayvon Martin.
Morkeh Blay-Tofey is a junior in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.