Trayvon Martin: One additional example for why bullying is so pervasive in society.
America was split at the verdict given by the jury of the Trayvon Martin vs. George Zimmerman court case earlier last week. Trayvon Martin, an un-armed 17 year old Black American was killed as a result of what now appears to be a fight between him and Mr. Zimmerman. Though accounts differ, it seems that the fight began after Mr. Zimmerman, profiled Trayvon and pursued him. Whether he profiled him because of his race is quintessential to the ongoing debate. The fact remains that Trayvorn was unarmed, wearing a hoodie, carrying skittles and did not cause any acts that would make him look suspicious.
Those in defense of Zimmerman (including a juror who gave an interview on CNN) argue that because of the rain, the dark, the previous burglaries in the neighborhood and the physical confrontation, Mr. Zimmerman was justified in profiling and defending his life which we now know cost Trayvon his. The juror also said something to the effect that Trayvon had a part to play in his own death by not running away, and by choosing to engage in a fight with Mr. Zimmerman.
All of these arguments disturb me greatly and sadly remind me of the way people respond to bullying in general. Often, when there is escalation due to bullying, we justify and rationalize the aggressive behavior but put the burden of proof on the victim who already suffers from a power deficit.
Why do I liken this case to bullying?
Here are some parallels that I find between bullying and Mr. Zimmerman’s actions that night:
Bullies often feel entitled to act in any way they want in order to satisfy a personal need. They often do so with little to no regards to social norms and protocols for respectful social interaction.
Dehumanizing communication style
Bullies do not care about the fact that effective communication is a two way street. They do not communicate to understand and/or exchange. They communicate to carry out a plan. For bullies, communication is a mean to an end: consummate the power they already have over another person. When bullies communicate they do so with terms, tone and non-verbal language that dehumanize their targets.
Whether psychological, physical or structural, bullies benefit from a power differential that grants them the right to inflict physical and/or emotional pain to another human being.
Silence through coercion and injustice
This power differential is kept unchecked as the bully uses his edge along with other deceptive methods to coerce targets, by-standers and adults. Fear, emotional trauma, lack of confidence and internalized anger often expressed through silence become the outcomes of the abuse.
All of the elements described above, are present in the Georze Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin’s story: a man without training, carrying a gun, approaches a teenager who by no fault of his own, fits a mental image of what “trouble” is. He is dehumanized before having a chance to introduce himself and winds up dead. He is forever silenced and the justice system justifies the killing as self-defense.
I hope that as a society we begin recognizing when injustice and bullying is taking place. I also pray that we learn to stand up with those who because of the power unbalance are already rendered voiceless. As Barbara Coloroso often says “Bullying must be stopped”.