February 5, 2023
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ColumnsSeeking Justice

Becoming numb to injustice

I distinctly remember at the age of 13 sitting in my grandparents bedroom on the edge of their bed anxiously awaiting the verdict of George Zimmerman’s trial. I had hoped that he would be convicted for wrongfully killing Trayvon Martin and would spend years in prison. To my surprise, the reporter on the news announced that Zimmerman had been acquitted of all charges and would be released into society to do what he pleased. A rush of hopelessness rippled throughout my body after the verdict had been read. This was the first time in my life that I saw for myself that Black people were not treated fairly in this country. I quickly came to terms with the fact that this country could abuse us over and over again without suffering any consequences. That night I saw myself in Trayvon Martin, and that was the night I became numb to injustice. 

On Feb. 23, it was announced that the officers who killed Daniel Prude would not be charged for killing him while responding to a mental health call. Compared to when I found out Trayvon Martin would not be getting justice, I felt absolutely nothing when it was announced that Daniel Prude would not be getting justice either. 

I didn’t feel sadness, anger, fear, optimism, defeat or denial. It felt like a normal Tuesday. For a second, I almost felt guilty for not being enraged or upset at the news. But my numbness has come from years of seeing people that look like me perpetually abused by a country that was built on our backs. I was surprised when Trayvon Martin did not get justice. I was in shock when George Floyd literally had his breath taken from him by the people who were “sworn” to protect him while people stood and watched. I was saddened when Breonna Taylor was forgotten after it was no longer trendy to post a black square on Instagram. I felt defeated when Tamir Rice was killed for playing with a toy. I had no words when Sandra Bland’s death was treated as normal. Sometimes, it seems like I have no more emotions to feel. 

All these emotions — shock, sadness, defeat and hopelessness — would eat me alive if I felt them on a daily basis. It seems as though a Black person is being wrongfully killed every other week. To combat being complacent in my grief, I have become numb to injustice. Numbness is distinct from denial; when you’re in denial you completely ignore reality, but when you are numb, you are fully aware that reality is there. You just can’t allow that reality to consume you. 

What progress has really been made? What resolutions have really been found? What are those in power really doing to make a change? I constantly hear about the concept of reimagining a world where there are no police or there isn’t a prison industrial complex — how can I reimagine when it seems as though my reality will never change? I don’t even know what justice and equality look like at this point.

I want to make it very clear that I did not write this to receive white pity or sympathy. I wrote this so that white people can see the harm they cause, either direct or indirect. You have no right to feel shocked anymore if you are white in America because you contribute to this issue. Instead of feeling sad for Black people, get up and do something about it.

John Turner can be reached at jturner3@ithaca.edu