The comment section on social media following a tragedy reveals a lot about the American psyche. Some choose to offer condolences despite never having met the family of the victims. Others offer prayers that they believe will make the situation easier to digest. Some try to figure out why the incident happened in the first place. There is nothing wrong with any of these reactions. But there is one reaction that seems to be prevalent when something like this happens: utter disregard for the American justice system.
I want to be perfectly clear before we go any further— two police officers In Hattiesburg lost their lives while doing the job they loved in a senseless act of violence and that is inexcusable. The job has no bearing on how intolerable this act was. Toney Robinson, a part-time employee of Edwards Street Fellowship Center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi was murdered last November while he was outside of Hope House helping homeless people. He didn’t deserve to lose his life any more than an officer of the law, but I don’t remember seeing any extended coverage then. The same amount of outrage over the murder of police officers is justified as well for charity workers. It is justified any time an innocent human being is killed.
Simply put: All lives matter.
This is where the problem comes into play. After the officers were killed and before anyone knew the facts, people took to social media to express their thoughts on how the people that committed this crime should be denied the right to due process. A modern day lynch mob formed in cyberspace and grew as time passed. I, like many others, read threads where people suggested these brothers should be hung in public. People were ready to volunteer for a firing squad to punish these men. Others even suggested that those forms of capital punishment weren’t strong enough (one person suggested they be set on fire). All of this happened before any of the facts were released.
Now we know that only one of the four is accused of capital murder. The others are all being charged with lesser crimes like accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice. A lynch mob would have proven to punish three people for a murder that they didn’t commit. That’s the reason for the American justice system. Every person is guaranteed the right to due process, no matter how guilty they appear or how much evidence there is to suggest that guilt.
To deny that right is to shake the very fabric of freedom most of the people suggesting these solutions normally preach. It’s truly astonishing to me that people who are always bragging about how American they are will throw away that Americanism when overtaken by rage. I suggest that this is a product of a less than adequate education. Schools don’t teach American government like they should, and that has proven to be detrimental in multiple facets of society. A majority of people don’t understand how the system works, and they generally don’t care if it doesn’t fit the narrative they purport.
During the search for the Boston bombers, misinformation spread on social media that a missing Brown student, Sunil Tripathi, was named a suspect by the police. Someone that went to school with Tripathi thought the picture police released of the suspects looked like him and tweeted that information. Tripathi’s name went viral and social media sleuths and vigilantes were pondering how to punish. The problem was, even if Tripathi was mentioned by the police—which he wasn’t—it didn’t make him guilty of the crime, but only a suspect. It turns out that Tripathi was already dead, found drowned in Providence a short time later. This is proof of comment thread courtrooms being a problem. Imagine what would have happened if he was found alive by some of those people on social media.
If we allow social media to become our judge, jury, and executioner, the United States of America has truly ceased to be the great country people believe it is. We can’t do that because of the crime; no matter the victim, criminals are people, and they deserve the right to due process. They deserve to be treated like human beings. They deserve to have their fate and punishment decided by the system that has been in place for over two centuries. A system that works. People that post on social media aren’t qualified to determine how anyone should be punished. The amount of untrue bullshit the vast majority of these people believe and post proves that to be true.