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Justice, not revenge, for Trayvon

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 3:56 PM EDT, Tue March 27, 2012
 Young supporters hold a candlelight vigil for Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.
Young supporters hold a candlelight vigil for Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New Black Panther Party's bounty to capture Trayvon's shooter is call for revenge
  • LZ: Bounty should be withdrawn: Revenge is not justice; violence solves nothing
  • We use violent terms to discuss the tragedy, he says: War on stereotypes, fight against racism
  • LZ says revenge leads to more revenge, but justice will help build a better world

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs Watch him on Tuesdays on CNN Newsroom in the 9 am ET hour.

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- As the rallies for Trayvon Martin grow, as the media coverage surrounding the tragedy deepens and as the calls for justice get louder, we all must remember one thing: Revenge and justice are not the same thing.

The $10,000 bounty issued by the New Black Panther Party for the capture of Trayvon's shooter, George Zimmerman, might feel justified given what we know of the shooting death. But it is not a call for justice.

It is a call for revenge.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

When the group's leader, Mikhail Muhammad, calls for "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," it is a call for revenge.

Muhammad's words at a rally -- "If the government won't do the job, we'll do it" -- might feel empowering, might feel good. But that sentiment flies in the face of every call for justice that was made as well at that rally. Anyone who is considering taking Muhammad up on his offer, or even embarking on a solitary journey of revenge should, to quote the Chinese philosopher Confucius, "dig two graves." 

Nothing good can come from a bunch of vigilantes hunting down and possibly harming another vigilante, regardless of how noble the motivation for doing so may appear on the surface. As angry as I am, and as many of you are, what Muhammad is proposing can only make a bad situation worse. He needs to retract the bounty proposal immediately.

Bounty put on Trayvon Martin shooter
'Zimmerman was in fear for his life'
Trayvon Martin's former coach speaks

Enough violence, and images of violence, surround this tragedy already.

A "war" on stereotypes.

The "fight" against racism.

It feels as if we can't even discuss the issue of race as it relates to the Martin case without using words that are linked to violence. Nothing about the word "war" connotes healing. Very little about a bounty suggests togetherness.

I'm not just splitting hairs over semantics. It is science that suggests the words we use shape the way we think. And what we think is the precursor to what we do. If we continue to allow words of conflict to define the conversation about race and racial profiling, then I fear we will move on from this tragedy having learned absolutely nothing, like so many times before.

I know many people think of Martin as a modern-day Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black kid from Chicago who was kidnapped and killed by a pair of racist white men in Mississippi in 1955. I tend to see Martin as the new Ryan White, the young man who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984 at the age of 13. Before White's story, the disease was in the public's peripheral vision, truly discussed only by people who experienced its impact. But once a young, innocent face became associated with AIDS, the country's attitude changed and we began addressing it more effectively.  

Opinion:Trayvon's killing and Florida's tragic past

Similarly, racial profiling was something only those directly affected would talk about. But the Martin tragedy has the potential to change that -- if we let it.

Earlier this week, Will Cain and I were guests of Don Lemon's on CNN and quickly found ourselves in a heated discussion about whether it was appropriate for President Barack Obama to comment on the tragedy. Over the next eight minutes, we fought and argued over issues of race and racial profiling. We continued the conversation once the TV segment was over. We talked on the way to the CNN makeup room. We talked as we left the building, crossed the street and had a beer.

My point is, we talked -- not in an effort to fight but to understand each other. To build something. We're hardly the perfect example of race relations. In fact, both of us are constantly told via Twitter, Facebook and other social media just how racist we are.

But we try to take each criticism with a grain of salt, understanding that at the end of the day, we're just a couple of men, a couple of fathers who want the same thing: a better world for our kids.

And I tend to believe we're not the only ones.

But we don't get to that place through revenge, because revenge is cyclical and gets us nowhere. No, we get to that better world for our kids by walking the long linear line of justice, side by side, picking each other up when one falls, reaching a hand back when one gets tired, never forgetting that no matter how divergent our opinions might be from time to time, we're in this thing together.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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