He is a kinsman to the Montague;
Affection makes him false; he speaks not true:…
I beg for justice, which thou, prince, must give;
Romeo slew Tybalt, Romeo must not live.
Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare
I don’t know why anybody doesn’t like Romeo and Juliet. It’s probably the language, but knowing the basic plot, it’s not all that hard to figure out what’s happening, at least on stage or in a good movie version.
People’s ignorance of the play is a shame because, like so many of Shakespeare’s other plays, it is extremely relevant to what happens in our lives. In the speech above, Lady Capulet is demanding Romeo’s death because he killed Tybalt, her nephew. She automatically assumes that Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin, gave false testimony about what happened. Benvolio had told the truth, explaining that Romeo attempted to be at peace with Tybalt but killed him after Tybalt had killed Mercutio, Romeo’s best friend.
Unfortunately, I’ve reacted similarly when angry, making faulty decisions and prejudging situations before I’ve listened to people explain the circumstances. My emotions ran high, making my intelligence low.
A similar situation occurred with the Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. When news of the shooting broke out, people automatically rushed to judgment, blaming Wilson for shooting an unarmed black man who was trying to surrender, probably because Wilson was racist. Others, rushing just as fast, automatically assumed that Brown was a thug who got what was coming to him.
Both of these judgments occurred before there was any investigation. People saw the news on television, listened to radio commentators, and just assumed that Brown was guilty of assaulting Wilson or that Wilson was guilty of shooting Brown down in cold blood. Both sides assumed racism. Brown did what he did because he was a young black thug. Wilson did what he did because he was a white racist cop. It didn’t matter that no autopsy had taken place or that witness testimony had not been taken and investigated for accuracy. People saw the news and saw what they wanted to see.
Unfortunately, this “sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity,” as Dr. King said, did an awful lot of damage. Before any kind of serious investigation took place, crowds were out in Ferguson’s streets, protesting Wilson’s shooting of Brown. The militarized Ferguson police force attempted to use shock and awe to control or disperse the protestors, and the protests escalated. Over the following weeks, the protestors began destroying Ferguson businesses to communicate their anger.
The police were also hurt by people’s prejudgments. Officer Wilson had to go into hiding with his family out of fear for his life. His career as a policeman is over, even though he had an exemplary record and had never used his gun on a suspect before shooting Michael Brown. There was a declared war on police, with two officers in New York being killed execution style for no other reason than they were police officers.
Are there bad cops? Sure. But acting prejudiced towards them, assuming racism and ill will on their part, is just as bad as racism. A whole group of people are judged and condemned because of the actions of a comparative few.
Race relations also took a hit. Just like with O.J. Simpson and George Zimmerman, people divided along racial lines regarding the guilt or innocence of the suspects. People rushing to judgment before serious investigation took place deepened the racist neural paths in our brains.
Seven months later, the investigations are complete. The grand jury in St. Louis, after examining the evidence—perhaps after examining more evidence than should have been available—declared in November that there wasn’t enough evidence to try Darren Wilson for murder or any other crime. Eric Holder’s Justice Department, after three more months of investigation, stated that Wilson committed no crime nor violated Michael Brown’s civil rights. Had there been any evidence to support his guilt, Darren Wilson would have been arrested on federal charges and given a court date by now.
Too bad that much of Ferguson burned to the ground, innocent policemen were killed, and racial tensions were stirred up before the investigations were completed. We could have avoided all that nonsense had we not rushed to judgment but waited for the investigators to do their jobs and let the truth come out. Perhaps we can get it right next time.
A good step in that direction would be for the people who condemned Darren Wilson prematurely to admit they were wrong and (let’s get a little crazy here) apologize to the man for prejudging him. Unless that happens, I’ll be surprised if at the next incident there isn’t yet another rush to judgment.