On Sunday, February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, a 28-year-old man, argues that he was acting in self-defense. Incredibly, Mr. Zimmerman has not yet been arrested. However, due to the organizing efforts of his parents, civil rights groups, MSNBC shows, and concerned citizens, the latest racialized miscarriage of our criminal justice system is now getting the widespread attention that it deserves. On Monday, March 20th, it was announced that the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are embarking upon an independent investigation into the causes and circumstances of Mr. Martin’s death. Many important commentaries have been written on the death of Trayvon Martin: in particular, Mark Jefferson’s piece on the Urban Cusp merits special attention.
My aim in writing about Mr. Martin emerges from a threefold motivation. First, Christians ought to publicly lament when a young black man receives a death-dealing blow — or in this case, gunshot — due to an unjustifiable use of force. The occasion for lament intensifies when one considers that local law enforcement, as of today, has not yet arrested Mr. Zimmerman. This apparent disregard for one of our most cherished legal precepts — equal justice under the law — is a principal reason why Mr. Martin’s family, along with hundreds of thousands of citizens across this nation, are protesting and petitioning on behalf of Trayvon Martin. While all of the relevant facts of the situation are not in, it seems highly probable that engaging an unarmed teenager with deadly force will exceed any legal appeal to self-defense. Lament, as Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann notes, is a profound, prophetic indication that something is out of joint socially — a visible acknowledgement that God’s just and peaceable dream of shalom has been shattered in the world. Speaking frankly, a multiracial lament concerning the murder of Mr. Martin might help reduce the cynicism many black and brown Christians harbor about where racial justice stands within evangelical movements for racial reconciliation.
Second, Mr. Martin’s parents have started a petition that merits signing. I encourage you to read about the particulars of his case and consider offering your support.
Thirdly, if you reside in the Greater New York City area, I invite you to attend “A Million Hoody March,” which will be held at Union Square starting this evening at 6 o’clock. The hoody signifies Mr. Martin’s article of clothing at the time of his death.
In the case of Trayvon Martin, the moral arc of Florida’s criminal justice system is bending towards injustice. We can, if we will, play a part in tilting it towards justice.
Click here to read and sign the petition demanding that justice be done in the Trayvon Martin case.
One of the excuses floated by the Florida authorities for failing to arrest Mr. Zimmerman is the recent adoption of Florida’s “stand your ground” law. This law allows a person to use deadly force against an unarmed person when they feel reasonably threatened and are in a place they have the right to be in. So the hesitation to arrest Zimmerman is purportedly based on authories’ lingering analysis over the question: “Was Zimmerman in a place he had the right to be in and was his feeling of being threatened reasonable?”
Other states have similar laws like the Texas “king of the castle” law that allows the use of deady force when one feels threatened in his/her own home. I cannot raise a logical argument against the Texas law, but the adoption of Florida’s law, which was encouraged by the National Rifle Association, promotes the kind of vigilante justice that we have seen in Trayvon’s case. It is simply outragious that such a law exists, which at the very least will require Trayvon’s grief-stricken family to endure possibly protracted litigation to determine that Zimmerman was not in a place he had a right to be in and could not have reasonably felt threatened. Of course, he had the right to be on the street, but after calling 911 to seek assistance with what Zimmerman apparently considered an emergency situation, he prompty ignored the instructions from the 911 operator, exceded his authority, and pursued the so-called threat, coming closer and closer in physical proximity. Secondly, Zimmerman’s words don’t match up with his actions. By pursuing and confronting Trayvon, he directly contradicted any notion of feeling threatened. Mr. Zimmerman simply didn’t like – and needed to eliminate – the image of a hooded black male walking in a care-free manner, or in other words “looking like he was on drugs.”
My question is when will the Florida legislators really get it and repeal “stand your ground?” For now, thank goodness the federal authorities are taking a closer look at this case.
Thanks for your comments. It is worth noting, however, that even the authors of the “Stand Your Ground” law – former Sen. Durell Peaden and current state Rep. Dennis Baxley – surmise that Zimmerman doesn’t have a solid case under their law. They, of course, are awaiting more details like everyone else, but their testimony is relevant given the fact that they crafted the bill.