In today’s society, justice for clear wrong doings no longer occurs for unlawful situations. In 2014, Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black man selling cigarettes, was wrongfully murdered in New York after two police officers put him in a choke-hold during his arrest and would not let go. His dying words were, “I can’t breathe”.
His death added to the endless lists of names of black men who have been wrongfully murdered by police officers. However, as society begins to believe that there is no redemption from such tragedy, people begin to use their own medium as their voice which helps establish the change that they want to see in the world.
Cartoons have become more widespread and now serve as a powerful medium for visual arguments. The power held within a combination of both written text and visual images is unimaginable. Even the perfect arrangement of either words or images could not top the power of the two combined. Together, ideas are formed by simultaneously analyzing the picture and words on the page. Bill Bramhall, an editorial cartoonist, used the power of the combination of words and visual images to produce a cartoon in the Daily News on December 4, 2014 in response to the conclusion that the jury came to in the Eric Garner Case.
Bramhall’s cartoon argues that the American people have allowed one of the building blocks of society, justice, to no longer hold importance in society and that Americans have witnessed a justice system that once protected their rights simply vanish before their eyes. As a result, peace will begin to no longer exist. This argument is portrayed by his use of symbolism, color, and perspective. Ultimately, as justice dies and peace diminishes, Americans will begin to live a lackluster life absent of the color and vibrancy that once stood as the distinguishing factor of the United States of America.
Symbolism serves as a powerful argumentative element within the cartoon and as a result, visual irony is produced showing that justice no longer stands strong and tall to protect the American people and as a consequence, peace will begin to disappear from society. Lady Justice, since the 16th century, has served as the symbol for the justice system.
She stands tall with her sword and balance in hand, showing that she is ready to fight the injustices of society and hold society accountable for their actions on a daily basis. Lady Justice is also depicted wearing a blindfold to cover her eyes. This blindfold represents that justice should not, at any time, be bias or advantageous to one group. Justice should be available to every American citizen and a person’s appearance should not influence decisions.
However, depicting Lady Justice sprawled on the ground and using her last few breaths to utter the very same words that were used by Eric Garner in the moment that he was being killed by the very people who he believed would protect him, creates an ironic argument. Lady Justice was supposed to never fail no matter what, yet she lays there helplessly. In times like these, Lady Justice comes in to ‘save the day’ with the help of the American people on a jury. But it seems that the American people have also turned a blind eye to justice and allowed it to disappear from their mindset.
In addition to Lady Justice usually holding her balance, sword, and wearing her blindfold, she is also depicted crushing a serpent under her foot. This is to represent justice’s triumph over injustice and wrongdoings. However, in the cartoon, the serpent is no longer seen beneath her since she is laying down. This release of the serpent from her control symbolizes that evil and bias has escaped into the world and has already begun to take over the American citizens.
This turmoil will then lead to a decrease in the amount of peace found in society. A symbol that once stood tall has been knocked down and killed. Justice is now dead and gone in America and there is no longer someone to maintain society. A symbol represents the beliefs and values of a culture and society and if those beliefs and values change, the symbol holds no importance.
In addition to symbolism as an argumentative element, Bramhall uses color to signify the tone of the piece and also to show the change in societal conversations among Americans. The black and white colors provide a somber tone on the cartoon. Bramhall’s choice to use no color suggests that the vibrancy of the life of Lady Justice and America has been drained. In addition, there is a black shadow shown in the top right corner.
The color black often serves as a symbol for evil and gears the experience of the cartoon. Since the black cloud is looming in the distance it suggests that evil will soon take over and it is on its way with nothing to stop it in its tracks. However, color not only portrays the tone cartoon, but it also portrays an important message about typical conversations being held in our communities.
Today, society lives in a Black and White world. Not only is this defined racially but it is also defined on how society is now built upon and driven by the differences among us in regards to topics and issues. People believe that one can only agree with one side and if they do not completely agree with that side, they are banned and are automatically assumed to be a member of the other side. These extreme oppositional stances allow for no other arguments or viewpoints to be introduced into the mix which ultimately leads to the lack of diversity and vibrancy in society.
Bramhall’s use of perspective depicts a visual version of Americans outlook on the wrongdoings occuring in society today. As a result of the bystander effect, people tend to diffuse their own responsibility among others because no one else is intervening. They begin to think, “Why should I do something if no one else is?”
This diffusion of responsibility occurs to multiple people at a time and this endless cycle leads to nothing being done. Bramhall depicts a classic example of how the bystander effect has encroached on society. As Lady Justice is laying on her back, her facial expressions and body position clearly show that she needs help. She portrays a sense of vulnerability and physically declares that help is needed when she says, “I can’t breathe.”
Yet no one comes to her rescue. This is depicted by the angle in which the audience sees Lady Justice laying on the ground. The angle represents the eyes of an American citizen watching someone of importance die, yet they will do nothing about it until someone else does. This then produces an argument that Americans would rather stand by and allow unjust actions occur than stand out and be different and vibrant.
The American Dream was once defined as the idea that every American citizen will live a free life with equal opportunities to succeed and prosper. However, as Lady Justice dies, the idea of the American Dream dies as well. Americans were once viewed as fulfilling their vibrant lives on a daily basis but when justice is not around to protect their daily lives, the vibrancy begins to diminish.
Peace will become a distant memory and evil will walk alongside of the American people in unimaginable ways. As Americans continue to be bystanders to these situations, the amount of unjust acts will pile up so much that Americans will not even notice them anymore. And in the blink of an eye, Americans will live in a new world. Without justice, there will never be peace.
- Bramhall, Bill. I Can’t Breathe. 2014, Envision In Depth, 4th Edition., by Christine L. Alfano and Alyssa O’Brien, Pearson, p.15.