(RNS) — The Rev. Al Sharpton says his thousand-minister march is all the more urgent now than when he began planning it months ago.
The Pentecostal-turned-Baptist minister says the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., has sparked more interest and a greater need for clergy of many faiths to speak up at the march set for Aug. 28, the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington.
The march will begin at the Washington memorial honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and end at Justice Department offices to protest increased hate crimes, discrimination and mass incarceration.
The 62-year-old president of the National Action Network, a predominantly black, Christian organization, talked with RNS about his plans. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you sum up your reaction to the events of Charlottesville over the weekend?
Charlottesville was a very startling and repulsive reminder to us of the issue of hate and the issue of racism and anti-Semitism that is still alive and practiced in the country. It seems now to have been revived and, in many ways, given moral equivalency with those that protested by the president of the United States. We need a president that’s clear that anti-Semitism and hatred and the kind of public display of bigotry that we saw is unacceptable.
How do faith leaders need to respond to President Trump’s series of comments about the violence in Charlottesville?
We had already called for 1,000 ministers of all faiths — Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim — to meet at King’s memorial and march to the Justice Department, saying we do not want to see the moral authority of Dr. King’s dream undermined no matter who the president. And we’ve had several hundred ministers already sign. After Charlottesville happened — and then the president’s reaction — it has intensified and we’re getting calls from all kinds of ministers from all faiths saying we must make a statement.
Our hope is that when you looked at those Nazis carrying torches talking about “You will not replace us,” we can contrast that with rabbis linking arms with Baptist ministers and Muslims marching in the spirit of Dr. King. They went to Robert E. Lee’s monument. We’re going to King’s monument and marching to the Justice Department. I heard growing up that the best way to expose a dirty glass is put a clean glass next to it. Faith leaders must stand up and show a dignified, nonviolent way.
Have your plans for the Ministers March for Justice changed in light of Charlottesville, whether in numbers or logistics or security?
Our security concerns have grown ’cause we always now have to be concerned about whether some people will try and do a counter thing — I’m talking about from the right. I get up every day facing death threats. That’s normal when you’re high-profile. So our security concerns increase although we’ve had no direct threats.
As I’ve talked to a lot of the ministers that have called and joined in now, a lot of them said that, yes, we always agreed with the idea of a march but I think we didn’t understand the urgency until we saw that footage on Saturday night. I think what that has done is brought back, into everyone’s living room, why we need to keep marching. This is much worse than we thought in terms of a spirit of hate and immorality.
How does this march compare to some of the previous ones you were involved in – including the march just before the Trump inauguration and the one on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington?
This one is for faith leaders. We’ve only asked for ministers. Now, others might come but it will be led by — and the program will be — rabbis, clergy members of the various parts of Christendom, Muslims and Hindus. Because we want to make a statement that hundreds of faith leaders came to Washington on the day of Dr. King’s dream. That is a big difference from us bringing tens of thousands of people — we want to make a clear statement from the moral and the faith leaders of this country.
Don’t forget Dr. King’s organization was named the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was very specific that it was religious-based and National Action Network is that as well. We’ve not heard from the faith community in a very public, united way and that’s the difference this march is.
What does it say to you about where we are as a country, or about its people of faith, that ministers are going to gather this way?
It gives hope that there are people that are willing to stand up. We’ve gone through rough periods in our history before and faith leaders lead us through. What do we remember about the ’60s? We remember when Rabbi (Abraham Joshua) Heschel joined Dr. King in Selma. We remember how it was a rabbi that was the speaker right before Dr. King at the March on Washington. When we all started coming together and raised the high moral questions, it set the climate for change. And you will always have other things going on, but when people know that those whom they go to on their Sabbath to get guidance are standing up, it brings it to another dimension. And I think it is extremely important that we do this, particularly at this time.
What do you think clergy and other people of faith should be doing at this time beyond sermons and marches?
I think that they’ve got to get into the community. They’ve got to get into the schools. They’ve got to get into the local gatherings, the town halls, the planning board meetings. And we’ve got to beat back this spirit of hate. We’ve got to go and do the work. Faith without works is a dead thing, the Bible says. And I want to lay that challenge out at the march: We’ve got to come off our pulpits and out of our cathedrals and save the soul of this nation.
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Black preachers holding press conferences about gay marriage and churchgoers boycotting Election Day? I wonder if our squabbling about gay rights amid so many greater problems plaguing the black community is a symptom of a bigger issue for the church — impotence in the community. In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells of the power believers would receive to have a wide community impact. Yet, we waste energy on what is ultimately a private personal matter between a person and who they choose to live their life with. Perhaps gay marriage is that low-hanging fruit that’s easier for the church to pick at.
Amid all the talk about gay marriage rights and the black church at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 42nd Annual Legislative Conference last week, I was intrigued by a panel discussion among some of the nation’s leading black preachers that actually targeted a more critical community concern. Ironically, the panel was moderated by the Rev. Al Sharpton (my Brownsville, Brooklyn homeboy), who the same day was prominent at a press conference where preachers correctly urged churchgoers to NOT sit home on Election Day in protest of President Obama’s support of gay marriage rights.
The panel dealt with the church engaging the public policymaking process. Sharpton, who heads the National Action Network, pointed out that during the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s, most black church leaders sat back or criticized as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other activists risked their lives out on the limb reaching for more important community fruit. Sharpton began by asking each panelist what the church should focus on to improve the black community.
PREACHING TO THE PREACHERS: Rev. Al Sharpton moderated a panel discussion with black clergy at the Congressional Black Caucus. (Photo: Michael Holahan/Newscom)
The Rev. Charles Williams II, president of Detroit’s National Action Network chapter, stressed church involvement in economic development. “The only institution that we still own is the black church. It may not be perfect, it has faults, but it’s the best thing that we’ve got going,” he said.
Juan Thomas from Chicago said that historically black preachers and lawyers (for example, the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell and Thurgood Marshall) have worked closely together to affect public policy. This must continue. “After this cycle we need to do our part to changes these voter ID laws and suppression laws,” added Thomas, who is also an attorney and the secretary of the National Bar Association.
The Rev. Timothy McDonald, pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, said that churches had abandoned discussions about “the sin of poverty” in favor of the prosperity gospel.
Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, a leader of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination, noted the AME’s history of political engagement dating back to Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first black person sworn into the U.S. Congress. “We need to sit at the table while you’re (elected officials) making the decisions because we’re right there in the trenches … We can tell you what’s working and not working.”
The Rev. David Alexander Bullock of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park, Michigan, targeted health care disparities such as, the HIV/AIDS epidemic. “The church refuses to move from the pulpit to the pavement … We’re sleeping with each other on Saturday, shouting on Sunday, and dying on Monday.” He also mentioned the prison industrial complex, which disproportionately targets African Americans.
The Rev. Dr. Suzanne Johnson Cook, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, urged black clergy to get involved in policymaking, including at the international level. “We have to be local, but we have to go big, go global.” She added there needs to be more alliances with other communities, such as Hispanics, to address common concerns.
The Rev. Lennox Abrigo, of Seventh Day New Covenant in Hyattsville, Maryland, also emphasized the need for community partnerships. He mentioned his church’s relationship with the American Cancer Society to bring early diagnosis to black men who may be suffering from cancer. “I’ve promised God that I’m not going to restate the problem anymore. I’m just going to go out and make things happen,” he said.
The Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, also targeted economic development, noting that 50 percent of black households in Detroit make under $25,000 per year. He said the number of children under 18 living in poverty is 53 percent. “It’s not just Detroit; it’s your city,” he said. “… As a pastor, I have to speak to that on a daily basis.” There needs to be a “social gospel ministry” that speaks to public policy, he said. “We have so many issues, we can’t deal with them all, but we can deal with those issues and policies that lift people up every day.”
So what do you think? Is the church doing enough with its power to uplift the community? And, before you answer, remember that WE believers ARE the church.
HOLDING HER OWN: Tara Wall, a conservative pundit and strategist for Mitt Romney, is a CNN panelist, a columnist for the Washington Times, and a defender of traditional values. She has debated a variety of progressive leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton (left) at a 2007 National Urban League convention. (Photo: Robert Cohen/Newscom)
Last month, when Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign hired veteran GOP operative and conservative pundit Tara Wall as its senior communications adviser, many assumed the former Massachusetts governor was preparing to get serious about his outreach to the black community. But Wall, one of the most high-profile black conservatives on the media circuit, says her primary job will be to shape the presumptive GOP nominee’s overall communication strategy — her ability to appeal to blacks, women, and other groups will presumably be a side benefit for the Romney team.
Still, as Gov. Romney takes on the nation’s first black president, it would be silly to think he wasn’t making a play for the black vote by bringing Ms. Wall onboard. As reported in The Washington Post, Romney’s plan is not so much to battle Democrats for the Black vote (he knows that would be a losing game), but to demonstrate to independent and swing voters that he “can be inclusive and tolerant in his thinking and approach.”
Ms. Wall will have her work cut out for her. Romney’s infamous quote that he’s “not concerned about the very poor” and his lack of clarity on the immigration issue have left him looking out of touch on social justice matters. And then a recent visit to a poor black neighborhood in Philadelphia to talk about education was greeted by unfriendly crowds — and some harsh criticism from Philly Mayor Michael Nutter. But, as Ms. Wall observes, Romney did show up, and he’s eager to demonstrate his willingness to interact with diverse communities.
If Philadelphia is any indication, it’s going to be a long, brutal road for Gov. Romney if he’s serious about breaking down the walls between the GOP and non-white communities. But Wall likes their chances. She recently spoke to UrbanFaith’s news and religion editor Christine Scheller about the challenge of being a black Republican, why Barack Obama is a likable guy, and how Mitt Romney’s policies will be good for the African American community. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
URBAN FAITH: Can you tell us about your journey from television journalist to columnist to CNN contributor, to adviser to the GOP, and now adviser to Governor Mitt Romney?
TARA WALL: Politics and journalism have been a part of my life since I was a kid. I always knew I wanted to be a reporter, and I always knew I wanted to be civically engaged, so I always did things in that vein to bridge the gap between people of different cultures and backgrounds. I told my pastor I wanted to do both and he said, “You can’t do politics and reporting. You have to pick one or the other.” At the time, you really couldn’t. Now it’s a little different. The worlds do meld. Throughout my career, my interest always went politically. I had been covering Governor Engler as an education reporter and literally got recruited by someone who worked in his administration to come work as a liason in his Detroit office. I loved it, and by virtue of doing that, I also worked on the first Bush campaign. I really believed President Bush’s message and wanted to support him. My story about becoming a conservative Republican is a whole other tier, but I always knew that I had conservative values. I was raised that way.
But you didn’t always identify as a Republican?
When I first went away to college at Florida A & M, I joined the school newspaper and I joined a political organization. The only political organization there was the Florida Young Democrats. Somebody asked me why I was a Democrat. I didn’t know that I was; I didn’t know I was anything at that point. I didn’t like that I didn’t know the answer to that question. So it wasn’t until I started examining both sides that I knew I was more aligned conservatively. I also credit the fact that I had the benefit of hearing people’s full speeches when I covered political events. At the time school choice was huge and I covered that extensively. I found myself agreeing with education reform, welfare reform, and less government.
ON MESSAGE: As Mitt Romney senior communications adviser, Tara Wall will shape the campaign's overall communication strategy.
In the 1950s, when it was perfectly acceptable and expected that some people would need welfare, my grandmother had to raise five kids on her own after my grandfather left her. She didn’t want welfare. She wanted to raise her kids on her own and she did. She went back to school because she didn’t want the government taking care of her kids. I grew up with that mentality. My parents worked very hard. I am middle class and worked from the time I was 14 years old. We were people of faith. We went to church. Those are some of the things that shaped me.
I never thought I would be a mouthpiece for the party, because as a reporter, I liked being independent. I liked having the ability to disagree, but I remember being at a rally with President Bush and it struck me how humble he was and how he spoke so highly of his mother and her impact on his life and his faith. That struck a chord with me, and so I definitely wanted to help the campaign after that. I did that for a year and then I got right back into TV in St. Louis. Then 9/11 happened, and everyone got laid off, including me. I thought maybe God was trying to tell me something, that maybe this business wasn’t for me anymore. I decided to go back to Detroit because 9/11 was devastating for everyone, including me, and I just wanted to go home. I had my own TV show in Detroit, which I loved, and had no plans to leave. Then I got recruited by the Republican National Committee to help get President Bush reelected. Had I not had Ed Gillespie on my show, I probably would not have gone. But I grilled him. I asked him, “What are you going to do to be inclusive and build the party?” I was so struck and so awed by his response. I just felt like, “This guy really gets it. He really understands what’s needed and how to communicate on this level.” About a month later I got the call from the RNC. It was one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make, but I kept telling myself that someone has to deliver this message and maybe I’m the person they need help do it.
Is your public service grounded in your faith?
It’s grounded in a lot things. It’s grounded in faith and family. A lot of what continued to develop from a civic standpoint was born out of my faith and the principles we were taught in that regard in church, but I fell in love with civics when I was in fifth grade. I was one of those kids who watched cartoons and the news. In high school, I watched C-span. I always felt a moral responsibility and a moral obligation to be the underdog and tell peoples’ stories. I know what it feels like to be bullied. People always say, “How can you do this? How do you take on so much? You’re anomaly.” But my dad raised to have a thick skin. I think we’re all here for a purpose. Not to sound too cheesy, but I feel like this is what my life destiny is. God gave me the ability to be in front of a lot of people, to have a great career doing TV, and then to use those abilities to help others articulate their messages.
I hope to help do that with the campaign. The issues that are presented to us cross racial barriers. There are racial disparities that exist, but there is more than a one-party solution to those issues. I just want folks that look like me to know that there are other options. There are more ways to address these issues and I’d like them to give us a chance. As Governor Romney goes out and speaks about some of these issues in our communities, I think he’s very sensitive to listening and I think that’s very important. I’m here to assist in that area.
What will your strategy be for helping to make Governor Romney appealing to communities of color?
I think we all know that 90 percent, if not more, of blacks are Democrats and will vote for President Obama. So, people need to know that we do have a message and that the Obama campaign doesn’t have a lock on the black vote. Our goal is not to take any vote for granted. We also have to make sure that we’re continuing to reach out broadly to our base, our base of black conservatives, Republicans, moderates, those who have supported us in the past and those who may have voted for Obama, but are looking for us to say, “Come back home.”
Do you think Governor Romney’s recent visit to a Philadelphia charter school was a mistake, or was his visit to that predominantly African American school reported inaccurately?
PHILADELPHIA STORY: On May 24, Gov. Romney greeted students in a computer class at Universal Bluford ES, a charter school in West Philadelphia. His visit to the neighborhood sparked criticism and debate. (Clem Murray/Newscom)
It was unfortunate how it was characterized. That an elected official [Mayor Michael Nutter] decided to come and bracket an educational event was a little absurd. He certainly has that right, but Governor Romney was welcomed at the school. Parents and teachers who want choice absolutely welcomed his message. They were happy he was there. I think that this goes a long way in showing that Governor Romney is open to listen to and from those folks who know what’s best for their schools and for their kids. He has a great message about closing the gap between minority and non-minority students. What has President Obama done to help bridge that gap? We see one-in-three young black kids right now have no work. We see the unemployment rate in the black community at a staggering 13 percent and we’ve had 40 months of unemployment. Those are things that need to be the focus, not these distractions.
Why are Romney’s ideas good for the black community? For example, how will his ideas and policies impact the high unemployment rate in the black community?
He has outlined a number of things he would do his first day in office. Some of the things we have to look at are the reasons people are out of work. It’s harder to find jobs because job-killing regulations are costing this economy billions of dollars. President Obama wants to raise taxes on Americans, particularly small start-up businesses that employ half of all private-sector workers. They’re not able to do that. They’ve been hindered from [hiring new workers] because of the tax burden and regulations. Mitt Romney thinks reforming the tax code is fundamental. Lowering the tax rate to 25 percent, making the R&D tax credit permanent. That in itself fosters innovation. Working with congress to lower individual tax rates by 20 percent across the board. That helps the small business, because a lot of times, these small business folks are being lumped in with corporations and it’s not right. I run my own small business, so I know what it’s like. It’s stifling. I’ve heard from small business owners who say in 40 years, they haven’t not been able to hire this way. They can’t do anything because they feel so hindered by all of this.
That’s one part. The other part Governor Romney has talked about is repealing regulations on day one and capping annual increases and regulatory costs at zero dollars. That also adds thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to the economy. This is his number one focus as opposed to President Obama, who doesn’t seem to be able to focus on the economy right now. He’s focusing on everything else, visiting celebrities and going on shows. If we could just focus on getting the economy back, it’s going to help African Americans and those who have been disproportionately hurt by this entire economic situation.
Why aren’t we talking more about black unemployment? Black joblessness? We are, but I have yet to hear anything substantive from this administration. And, God knows, I’m sure President Obama means well. He’s absolutely a likable person. I’m sure folks feel compelled every time they hear him speak, but what has the soaring rhetoric resulted in? When you have 40 straight months of job loss, what has that done to the black community? What has that done for black job growth and entrepreneurship?
Is there any hope of shaking up the traditional alignment of Black Christians with the Democratic party and white evangelicals with the Republican party?
Black conservatives, particularly in the South, will cross party lines to vote on certain initiatives. While they overwhelming still vote Democrat, they’re more conservative from a faith perspective. I don’t know how that will translate this election. I suspect that, at least from the folks that I’ve heard from, there are those who are disappointed from a faith perspective in some decisions that the president has made, but some of them will probably still vote for him. There are others that say, “I’m not sure. I’m still pondering how much that means to me.” I don’t know that it’s going to cause people of faith in the black community to overwhelmingly come to our side. I think black conservatives, yes; black moderates who are on the fence, maybe yes; but black Democrats who may disagree with him, I don’t know that that’s necessarily going to be a game changer for them. That would be just me pontificating, and that doesn’t mean we won’t speak out and court all those who value the platform that the party and the candidate stands for. Hopefully we’ll reach those that we might be able to find some bridges with.
Can the GOP leverage politicians of color like Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Nikki Haley to attract a more diverse constituency or will it always appear that these politicians are tokens?
LISTENING TO THE PEOPLE: During his Philadelphia trip, Romney participated in a roundtable discussion on education issues with Kenneth Gamble (glasses and hat), chairman of Universal Companies, the non-profit that runs the charter school Romney visited. (Clem Murray/Newsocm)
I think [Gov. Romney] already is attracting a more diverse constituency, and I reject the notion of tokenism. It’s long been discounted. These are sitting elected officials who are Republicans. So that’s absurd. There are many in the black and Latino community who have voluntarily come out and supported Governor Romney: Condoleezza Rice, former Education Secretary Rod Paige, who is on his education advisory panel, Representative Tim Scott, Marco Rubio. These are folks who support the ideals and the leadership that Governor Romney represents and that’s what’s important. You don’t have to go that far to find many others like them, despite the narrative the media puts out there.
It was ironic at the Philadelphia event that it was the same day or the day after Secretary Rod Paige was announced as an education advisor and no one even picked it up. No one interviewed him or talked to him about his support for Governor Romney and why he was helping him to craft some positive solutions relative to schools and school choice.
What is the biggest misconception that women and people of color have about Mitt Romney?
The problem with perceptions is that they change day-to-day. One day he’s up; one day he’s down. Right now he seems to be up. His numbers have gone up a little among women. Obviously you never want to fuel perception any further if it’s completely inaccurate and you definitely want to correct mistruths. It’s up to pundits to decide about perceptions. They’re going to hash that around. The campaign is focused on insuring the message gets out to women, to minorities, and to others across the country, what his record is, what he believes are the best tools to move this country forward, and reminding voters of the abysymal record we’ve seen these past four years with President Obama.
You’ve been a Republican adviser for nearly a decade. Have you been criticized by other people of color for your party affiliation or are we at a place where people can respect differing political convictions?
I wish we were at that place. Do you want to see my emails?
What kinds of things do people say?
Very nasty, hateful horrible things that I can’t even repeat to be honest with you. But I don’t focus on that. I go back to the fact that my dad raised me to have a tough skin. I know that not everybody can speak out the way I can. For every one of me, there are 50 more that aren’t as brave as me. I don’t mean that in a bad way. They’re secret Republicans or closet Republicans because it’s not worth it for them and their families to put themselves on the line that way. Not everyone can do that. I accept this as my cross to bear, if you will, because someone has to speak out. Someone has to be that person, until those attitudes and ideas change and until we do get to a point that we can have a civil discussion about where this country needs to go. There are varying opinions even within the Republican party.
Black Republicans are not monolithic. Sometimes we disagree amongst ourselves, but that’s part of the healthy, natural debate. It’s getting better, but there are certain things we haven’t broken through and certain ideals we haven’t broken through. Anytime you have a majority of one race voting one party, it doesn’t serve us well. It shouldn’t serve anyone well if the party is taking any vote for granted. That’s not the way politics was designed. It was designed to be a debate and discussion and a sharing of ideals. We shouldn’t be giving our vote over to one party, whatever that party is. We should examine the issues. I want to see more parity, from a party perspective. It would be great if we could have 50 percent down the line on each side of the aisle, or maybe one day there will be a purple party.
I heard [former Democratic] Rep. Artur Davis recently speak. He said that his ideals and beliefs are not welcome in the Democratic party. I feel that way. That doesn’t mean I don’t go to organizations and events that are highly Democratic, but a lot of times I feel out of place. I feel like my viewpoint is not represented on the stage or in a panel, and I don’t think that’s right.
Does your status as an African American Republican woman help you identify with Governor Romney when he is criticized for his Mormon faith?
I just think that’s another diversion. People of faith have embraced Governor Romney. They respect that he’s a man of faith period. From Evangelicals to Catholics, people have come out and said, “This is a man of faith.” That’s what counts to most Americans, knowing that he has a belief system and values. He’s a man of character and integrity. He’s a family man. Those are the things that matter to Americans.
Sanford Pastors Want Reconciliation
It only slowly dawned on Charisma Media publisher Steve Strang that the Trayvon Martin story had gone national, even though Charisma’s offices are located “less than three miles” from where Martin was killed, Strang said in an op-ed published Friday. He organized a clergy press conference after meeting with with local pastors for two days last week and with Special Prosecutor Angela Corey. He said Sanford’s ministerium wants “reconciliation and healing—not marches and protests” and the June issue of Charisma will include an article on “The Church’s Response to Racism.”
Transcending Racial Division Is Everyone’s Responsibility
In another Charisma op-ed, the Revs. Joel C. Hunter and Nelson Rivers III said, “The fact that Trayvon’s family and George Zimmerman lived in the same gated community in the South is a mark of how far we’ve come as a nation. The fact that Trayvon was presumed to be a threat, followed and shot to death is a testament to how far we have to go.” They also said, “The slow, ambivalent reaction to this tragedy by many in the white Christian community demonstrates the need to break down stereotypes and fear, and to build closer relationships across racial lines. Transcending this division is a responsibility for people of all races and creeds.”
Land’s Comments Don’t Help Southern Baptist Efforts
Meanwhile, the Revs. Fred Luter and Dwight McKissic have expressed disappointment in Southern Baptist leader Richard Land for for comments he made condemning President Obama for speaking out in support of Martin’s family, the Associated Press reported. “When asked about the concern that Land’s comments hurt the effort to attract non-white members, Luter said, ‘It doesn’t help. That’s for sure.'” McKissic said he thinks Land’s remarks “will reverse any gains from the rightful election of Fred Luter.” He intends to “submit a resolution at the SBC’s annual meeting asking the convention to repudiate Land’s remarks.” Land told the AP that he stands by his controversial remarks, but he’s now been accused of plagiarizing them from a Washington Times column, The Tennessean reported.
Zimmerman May Apologize
Land may be immovable, but George Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara told ABC News that his client may apologize to Martin’s family for the shooting. “What I want to happen is for that conversation to occur directly to the family rather than …in the media through me,” he said. (O’Mara also told Florida’s WFTV that he will file a motion today to have the presiding judge in the case, Jessica Recksiedler, removed [at her own suggestion] because Zimmerman had contacted an associate of Recksiedler’s husband to represent him prior to hiring O’Mara.)
Central Florida’s ‘Dark, Violent’ Race History
At The Nation, Mark I. Pinksy pondered why white clergy in Sanford have been so slow to engage the issue and concluded that the “main impediment” has been the involvement of the Rev. Al Sharpton. More importantly, Pinksy outlined a troubling racial history in Central Florida as a backdrop for the story.
“In separate events in the 1920s, an attempt by two black men to vote in the town of Ocoee led to a race riot that spread to Apopka, Orlando and Winter Springs. Three years later, a white mob attacked the black community of Rosewood, burning the town to the ground and scattering its residents forever.
In the spring of 1947 … Jackie Robinson came to Sanford with one of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league teams. Although Robinson kept a low profile, a mob of town residents effectively ran him out of town, forcing him to stay miles away in Daytona Beach….
On Christmas Day, 1951, Harry T. Moore, Florida’s NAACP executive director and an anti-lynching activist, and his wife were blown up in their wood frame home. Local law enforcement officers were widely thought to have been among the Klansmen responsible. Harry Moore died en route to a Sanford hospital, where his wife died nine days later.
In 2007, an all-white jury acquitted seven prison guards and a nurse of beating to death a 14-year-old African American boot camp inmate, a killing caught on videotape.”
Who Cares About Trayvon and Who Doesn’t
Strang may have been late to the story and Land may decry it, but they’re not alone. This morning The New York Times published an insightful article about why this story has blown up and with whom it has gained a hearing. “Opinion polls show high interest in the case, with blacks far more likely than whites and Democrats more likely than Republicans to identify it as a ‘top story’ in their minds, according to the Pew Research Center.”
Update: Richard Land has apologized for failing to give verbal attribution in radio broadcasts and for offending people in his public discussions of the Trayvon Martin case, USA Today reported this afternoon. “I am grieved that anyone would feel my comments have retarded in any way the Southern Baptists’ march toward racial reconciliation, which I have been committed to for the entirety of my ministry, since 1962,” said Land.
What do you think?
Has this story gotten too much media attention, not enough, or the right amount?
COMPLICATED PICTURE: After a week of protests and media hysteria, the Trayvon Martin case has taken yet another turn as information emerges that calls Trayvon's character into question.
Yesterday was the one month anniversary of when Florida teen Trayvon Martin was shot to death by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. If it weren’t for the work of journalists, this story would never have made national news and the U.S. Department of Justice would not be investigating the case for civil rights violations. Neither would a grand jury have been convened in Florida to hear evidence about it, nor would the Sanford, Florida, police chief have “temporarily” left his post and been replaced with a black man. But, if it weren’t for the work of journalists, the rush to judgment about the case also would not have happened.
In the past week, we’ve learned that Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend moments before the shooting. She has said that Martin told her someone was following him and that she heard Martin ask the man why before a scuffle broke out between them. But Sanford Police Department sources told the Orlando Sentinel that Zimmerman said Martin attacked him as he was walking back to his SUV and that Martin tried to take his gun and slammed his head into the ground.
Maligning and Defending Trayvon Martin’s Character
Conservative websites have begun to malign the character of Martin, who had been portrayed as a wholesome teen. They published pictures and status updates that they claimed were taken from Martin’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to show that he had tattoos and gold teeth and implied he sold drugs, as if these supposed facts were somehow relevant. But a website reportedly owned by conservative pundit Michelle Malkin issued an apology for publishing one widely circulated photo, saying it was not, in fact, the Trayvon Martin who was shot to death by Zimmerman. And journalist Geraldo Rivera was roundly criticized, even by his own son, for suggesting that Martins’s choice of attire was as responsible for his death as Zimmerman was.
In response, Martin’s parents held a press conference. His father, Tracy Martin, said, “Even in death, they are still disrespecting my son, and I feel that that’s a sin.” His mother, Sybrina Fulton, said, “They killed my son, and now they’re trying to kill his reputation.” The family is asking for donations to keep their fight for justice going and Fulton has reportedly filed for trademarks to the phrases “I am Trayvon” and “Justice for Trayvon.” She, of course, has been criticized for that. Martin’s friends, meanwhile, say they can’t imagine Trayvon picking a fight with anyone.
Catalyst for National Discussion
On Friday, President Obama spoke out on the killing, saying we all need to do “some soul searching” and if he had a son, the boy would look like Trayvon. GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich immediately pounced on Obama’s statement, suggesting the president’s comments were racially divisive. At the same time, Gingrich and fellow GOP hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum each called Martin’s death a “tragedy,” and Santorum suggested that Zimmerman’s actions were different from those protected by Florida’s “stand your ground” laws.
On Sunday, Christians (mostly black ones) wore hoodies to church in solidarity with Martin. On Monday, New York State legislators wore them on the senate floor. Everyone seemed to be talking about having “the talk” with their black children, and people, including me, began asking why white evangelical leaders have been largely silent on the issue. Others, including one former NAACP leader, accused the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson of exploiting the situation.
Some, like Evangelical Covenant Church pastor Efrem Smith, wondered where the outrage is about black-on-black crime. Smith posted a series of tweets noting the lack of attention these victims receive. “A couple of months ago in Oakland multiple young blacks were victims of violent crime by other blacks but Al Sharpton didn’t come to town,” he said. Why not?
‘Justice Doesn’t Alienate Anyone’
Although Zimmerman’s friends continue to defend him and the authors of Florida’s “stand your ground” law defend it, Regent University law professor David Velloney told CBN News that if Zimmerman “was following [Martin] in somewhat of a menacing manner and he violently, or aggressively approached the teenager, then he becomes the initial aggressor in this situation and really then he loses that right to self-defense.”
I’ll give Velloney the last word on the case for now, because amidst all the discussion, debate, and hype, his comment gets to the heart of why this story blew up in the first place. People reacted to a grave, familiar injustice that was aided by an unjust interpretation of what may be an unjust law. Now that the road to justice has finally been cleared for the Martin family, perhaps it’s time we all calm down and take the words of Bishop T.D. Jakes to heart. “Justice doesn’t alienate anyone. It is truth,” Jakes told CBN News. “It is consistent with Scriptures that we investigate, and that we support the defense for all human life.” Amen to that.