I have a new op-ed on the blog Savage Minds regarding the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman fiasco. here’s a snippet:
The challenge, as I saw it, was how to bring the discussion back to the pedagogical imperative of a classroom; to ask how we can use this mixture of events, concepts and participants to think about our shared lives and concerns? Surely one set of observations involves noting the widespread and despicable racial disparities the incident brings to the fore—illustrating what kinds of bodies are imaginable as victims and what bodies as perpetrators of violence while contrasting that imaginary with lived realities—and tying those disparities to the larger social inequities of which the U.S. criminal justice system has been a significant engine. For example, helping students notice the strikingly different ways Martin & Zimmerman are discussed in the public forum, linking that observation to the massive incarceration of African-Americans over the last thirty years and understanding the larger social effects of that injustice. To make these connections clear, and in doing so to illustrate the contemptible nature of our justice system, is surely the primary task, as is the duty to foster a desire to develop more ethical responses to the situation.
This is in fact a large part of the ground we cover in my “Policing in Society” class (and, for that matter, in our Criminal Justice program as a whole, which is known as a center of “critical criminology”). And, as a result, my students do not voice contention with that analysis. However I’ve found that it does not capture the entirety of the issue as it was raised; it reflects neither the tenor nor exhausts the terms of the debate as it occurred in my classroom. Alongside the issue of racial injustice, which to most of my students seems obvious, lies another question: the problem of resolving the contrast between George Zimmerman in all his fallibility and the enormous existential power of his capacity for violence. At their core I’ve found that my students’ positions—across racial, gender and class lines—are not as disparate as one might think, but rather various imperfect attempts to address an underlying, perhaps paradoxical question: what should be the distribution of violent force throughout the social body in a political system, such as ours, that likes to consider itself a liberal democracy?