The Rotary Club of Pismo Beach / Five Cites
Kathleen Schwind, Third Place
Grade 9, Arroyo Grande High School
Teacher: Mrs. Pierce
Lately in the newspaper there was an article entitled What Would Atticus Do? Harper Lee’s beloved story has proven to be still as influential in our society today as it was in the early nineteen-sixties. The author of this article, William McGurn, draws many parallels between the characters of To Kill A Mockingbird and the players in the recent Trayvon Martin case. However, I disagree with one of his main points: I see no Atticus Finch in the Trayvon Martin controversy. An Atticus Finch would have demonstrated the Four-Way Test, as it appears Atticus did in the novel. Such a person would have governed his every decision using the Four-Way Test as a guide.
The Four-Way Test – is it the truth, is it fair to all concerned, will it build good will and better friendships, will it be beneficial to all concerned- is the essence of Harper Lee’s character, Atticus Finch. Mr. Finch is burdened with the case of a black man accused of raping a white woman. Atticus finds this is not the truth, and proceeds to demonstrate the first rule of the four-way test by calling witnesses and introducing truthful documents in court. In the Trayvon Martin case, the truth has still not been brought out by an Atticus Finch or anyone else. Unlike in Lee’s court case, we have no one playing the role as Atticus. Instead we have players such as NBC News editing the 911 dispatch call from Zimmerman, the accused, to make it appear that racism drove his actions. Even a sitting Congressman drew conclusions and leveled accusations before acquiring enough information to discern the truth. Unfortunately, many people of a wide and varied status and persuasion have bypassed the first of the four ways tests, and declared a verdict before an Atticus Finch could even begin to make a case.
Atticus Finch also takes into consideration the fairness of his case in terms of everyone involved. He realizes it would not be fair to have an innocent man be hung because of an accusation based only on the color of his skin. He takes it upon himself to make sure it is fair to all concerned. Yet in the Martin case people such as Spike Lee, a filmmaker, have gotten so wrapped up in the politics that they have forced an innocent family out of their home. Mr. Lee apparently wanted street justice, and publicly posted the address of a Zimmerman family in hopes they would receive hate mail and possibly death threats. Yet the address was for the wrong Zimmerman family. This is clearly not fair to the family who had nothing to do with this case and was falsely linked to this unfortunate situation. If Mr. Lee had applied the Four-Way Test, he would not have made that rash, potentially fatal decision.
Atticus Finch’s decision to take on the nearly impossible case built a foundation for a lasting good will between all people, blacks and whites. His foresight, knowing that a short period of interracial distrust could be replaced with long term harmony, was appreciated by some, though not all at the time. When he went to where the blacks lived, he was offered gifts and was looked upon with thanks. He helped pave the way and build the bridge between these two races that were so segregated. He was able to build friendships with people of other races and helped his young children do the same. However, no one in the Trayvon Martin case has done anything to that effect; they have in fact been doing the opposite. People and social groups have been trying to break the bonds between the two societies that the Atticus Finch’s have worked so hard to build up in recent decades.
Members of Congress, television personalities, journalists, and the Black Panther party would have served everyone better if they waited for the facts to come out before jumping to conclusions. Imagine how much better served we would all have been had everyone considered a process such as the Four Way Test before reacting. Did any of the voices we’ve heard from on this matter consider whether their words or deeds were beneficial to ALL concerned? There was no due process for Zimmerman. His family and the public officials involved have been convicted as accomplices in a crime that hasn’t been tried. Atticus hasn’t even been given the case, because it is being tried in the court of public opinion, to no one’s benefit. In To Kill A Mockingbird the people accusing the innocent man thought that it was beneficial for them to convict someone, even if it may be the wrong person. Really, the people accusing the innocent merely wanted their “pound of flesh” and did not realize that the guilty party is still out there and may harm someone else. If justice was duly served, then it would be beneficial to all concerned, as justice always is. Understandably, the family and friends of Trayvon Martin are devastated at their loss, and desperately seek solace. But their search for solace down the path of injustice for another will produce only more sorrow. What would Atticus do?
Unfortunately this type of reaction, this public destruction of others, is not confined to the Trayvon Martin case. Numerous cases every year exhibit this same pattern. I believe we should do as Atticus would do. I believe that we – not just the congressmen, and television broadcasters, but all of us – should slow down, take a deep breath, and read the Four-Way Test, and then begin again on the proper footing. As Harper Lee herself said at a special screening of her book at the White House, “The world needs [Atticus] now more than ever.” And this is true. We need more people like Atticus in this world because people with those kinds of strong ethics, morals, and values are hard to come by these days. I believe that if we all truly adopt the Four-Way Test into our lives and use it to govern our decisions; we can all have some Atticus Finch within us.