Today, the judicial system failed Trayvon Martin. Today, the laws failed Travyon. Today, a child's killer will walk free because of words like "stand your ground" and "beyond a reasonable doubt."
I watch people laud and stand proudly in amazement of the way our legal system works and functions.
I am not impressed.
You see, on May 24, 2002 at 3:08 pm, the system failed me. The laws and the verbage of the eighth circuit courts in the state of Iowa failed ME. The jury, eager to return to their lives, especially on a Friday afternoon with a 3-day weekend that would surely be interrupted by further deliberations, were acting according to the law, the instructions of the judge, words-powerful words...
I do not feel the system worked. I have been on the other side. The all those forming their opinions, perhaps the "greatness" of our system and laws would be less than great if you had the displeasure of taking a walk on the "other side."
The 4 fingers of my left hand were severely burned by a freezer in a grocery store at the age of 12. July 8, 1996. I have suffered the consequences for 17 years. The corporations, the grocery store, the freezer manufacturer, have had no consequences...no accountability. Me, my family The reason? The law. Words. Jury instructions. "Burden of proof, exercise of reasonable care, negligence."
I, unlike Trayvon Martin, did not lose my life, but that muggy July Monday night, my life-and the lives of my entire family-changed forever.
When my case went to trial, 6 years into the throes of the neurological chronic pain disease caused by my injuries, I was victimized by the system. I was questioned, drilled, interrogated in depositions. Every action, every movement, every choice and mistake I made was brought into a case that had nothing to do with those things. My family, too, had to be questioned, sometimes for hours. Their character was attacked in any way that could be found.
I was an accomplished violinist. I had a scholarship to an incredible university. I made great grades and was in the gifted program. I was never sick. I was a big sister to my annoying brother (all little brothers are annoying when you're 12) and my adorable toddler sister. I had a life. The night I was injured while grabbing root beer and banana popsicles, a normal thing for a 12-year-old shopping with her mom. That night, I entered a world of unfathomable pain and suffering, all because of the negligence of a grocery store and the poor design of a spot-merchandise freezer.
I sat in court for a week, hyper aware of what I wore, how I looked, if I smiled or dare move too fast. You see, I looked "normal." I didn't "look" sick. If I had simply lost a finger or two that day, it would have been better. The damage done wouldn't have been invisible. To top it off, my life might have gone on much more normally, much more pain free. But that wasn't in the cards for me. I kept my fingers and took a broken central nervous system instead.
Do you know what was brought up in court? The intensity of the pain I endured, considered to be greater than that of cancer, unprepared childbirth, and amputation of a finger. The pain I lived with every day, pain so great that I could not even handle a fan blowing or a family member hugging me. That was brought up. The long term impacts of RSD on my health. My violin teachers got up and talked about my potential and great talent. My family members and teachers talked of my character and the impacts of my illness on both me and my family. The financial burden on my family-HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars, spent to find an answer that would save my life. Future financial burdens for me to face. Lack of insurability with a pre-existing condition.
Do you know what I remember, more than anything? My former friends getting up on the stand and talking about how I drank alcohol at high school parties. Was that important or necessary?
Yes, I made mistakes. Big mistakes, small mistakes. And somehow, by bringing that into court, it diminished my character, as though I must also be a liar or maybe just deserving of the torture I endured.
I did not deserve what happened to me. My family did not deserve what happened to me. My family did not deserve what happened to them either, with all their great losses and major life changes because that is what it took to save my life.
Trayvon Martin made mistakes, but he did not deserve to die. The system did not do him justice. He was failed today, and his family, left with an empty place where he should be, was failed today. Just because we follow laws put in place does not mean the laws are not abused. Just because we follow the directions of the judge does not mean the judicial system is not flawed.
I know. I have been there. The system, the laws, the words and technicalities failed me 11 years ago.
I will not laud our justice system.
I am not proud.