Wikipedia defines cognitive dissonance as “In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.”
So it was with me when I read two articles around the same time another. The first article was published by Slate. It tells the story of Jamycheal Mitchell.
Mitchell, who was arrested in April for “stealing less than $5 worth of junk food (a Snickers bar, a Mountain Dew, and a Zebra Cake) from a 7-Eleven,” was charged with petty larceny and trespassing. The salient point is that bail was set at $3000, which he could not make. He remained in jail under no bond. Despite being ordered to a state mental hospital, he remained in jail, where in died on August 19.
The second article, referred to in the first, was published by the Washington Post. It tells the story of a convicted felon, the former Governor of Virginia, Robert F. McDonnell. McDonnell had been sentenced to 2 years in prison on corruption charges. He was out on bail pending appeal. After his appeal was denied, he was ordered to report to prison. He appealed to the US Supreme Court, which in an extraordinary act, allowed McDonnell stayed the mandate, allowing McDonnell to remain free pending his appeal.
There you have it. Mitchell, a young African-American man, charged with stealing a candy bar, dies in jail unable to make bond. The other, a Governor convicted of a felony, remains free of the constraints only jail or prison bring. I know, I know—there are “explanations” for both results. But I keep thinking about both these things.
Cognitive dissonance. I am confronted by information that “conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.”