RELATED BY TRAGEDY: The death of 17-year-old Florida student Trayvon Martin (right) has sparked comparisons with the iconic death of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago native who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly flirting with a White woman.
I have an 18-year-old brother whom I love dearly. He’s an African American college freshman, and sometimes a knucklehead. He has all of the answers and therefore does not always listen to wise counsel. He has never been in trouble with the law, never used drugs, and has never drunk alcohol. Sometimes he leaves the house dressed in a suit. At other times, he leaves dressed in sweats. His attire doesn’t give anyone a license to kill him.
The reality is, I sometimes leave home looking both ways myself. I choose how I dress and what is appropriate for lunch with my girlfriends or a quick grocery-store run. If someone approached me at either location with an armed weapon and I feared for my life, I would do everything I could to defend myself and so would you.
HE COULD'VE BEEN MY BROTHER: Images of Trayvon Martin reminded the author of her own younger brother, pictured above. (Photos by Deronta Robinson)
My initial response to Trayvon Martin’s death was, “That could have been my brother.” As I witness the media hysteria build around the case, I have to sit back for a moment and take inventory of our culture. It would be quite easy to write a Facebook status or change my profile picture to an image of myself in a hoodie. It’s quite easy to march for a day or protest for a month. We may blog about the case, read an article, or discuss it with friends at work, or a Black preacher may shout about this injustice from the pulpit on a particular Sunday, maybe even two, but eventually, we will forget.
The danger in our current outrage is that we might turn Trayvon Martin into a symbol, when in fact he was a real teenager. Some have drawn comparisons between Trayvon and Emmett Till, the Chicago teen whose brutal murder by Mississippi racists in the 1950s helped mobilize the civil rights movement. One commentator suggests Trayvon’s death may be “our Emmett Till moment.”
Trayvon is not the modern-day Emmett Till. Our attention spans are much too short for that, and our thirst for the next trending topic is much too great. We will forget Trayvon Martin. It may not be this week, this month, or this year, but eventually we will all forget.
This is the travesty of the Trayvon Martin situation: injustices like this occur against poor and minority children every day in this country and many pretend not to know. Black-on-Black crime is still real, often effectively ending the lives of both parties. Black kids are still dropping out of school at alarming rates. Young Black men are still checking into prison at rates comparable to those who enroll in college, and too many of them are being raised in homes without fathers. They are struggling in failing public schools. Gangs are lurching around those schools and targeting our children on the streets. Every day young girls are born into welfare-type situations and growing up to repeat the cycles modeled by their mothers simply because they have not witnessed an alternative. These children lose hope long before the age of 18, and as a result they often descend into committing crimes against humanity. We are all guilty. We cut the lives of these kids short and murder them with our complacency and our silence.
Why? Because we are busy. As individuals, we have personal goals of success to pursue. We have to raise our own kids. Our churches are busy with a bunch of good programs and activities which cater to our children. We ignore large chunks of the Bible because they are disruptive to our current lifestyles. Remember the part when Jesus returns and all nations of people are gathered before him? Here is the qualification for entering God’s heavenly kingdom on that day:
“For I [Jesus] was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothe me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:31-40).
Then Jesus proceeds to curse and turn away those who respond in the opposite manner. In this passage, Jesus is not asking whether or not someone recited a profession of faith or was baptized. He is simply asking, “How did you live?” See, the gospel is not something to simply accept and show up for on Sunday mornings. The gospel is life — our day-to-day choices of what we are going to prioritize. Are we going to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and whether or not we are going to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves? That is the critical question that we must ask ourselves every day of our lives. The answer to that question will make all the difference.
The question marks surrounding the Trayvon Martin case may never be resolved. It’s possible that the man who shot him will never be charged. But Trayvon’s life already has been laid down. The question is: Are you willing to lay down your life for those like him?
What are you going to do, Christian? What are you going to do, Church? Are we going to turn our frustrations into something positive that has a lasting impact? Are we going to turn the tide and reclaim responsibility for our children? Are we going get into the schools and communities to teach, mentor, and tutor our young people and equip their mothers and fathers to be better parents? Are we going to continue to murder, or are we going to choose life?
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.
DEMANDING A RESPONSE: College students and citizens rallied today at the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford, Florida, to demand the arrest of a neighborhood watch captain who shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teen. (Photo: Red Huber/Newscom)
On Feb. 26, a black teenager named Trayvon Martin was walking through a gated community in Sanford, Florida, when 28-year-old neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman called the police to report him as a suspicious person. Zimmerman confronted Martin, despite being directed by police to stop following the teenager.
This morning, in a story about Florida college students protesting the fact that Zimmerman has still not been arrested, the Orlando Sentinel reported what happened next:
Zimmerman then stepped out of his SUV, while still on the phone with police, and followed the teenager on foot. The phone call ended, but the two somehow came face to face on a sidewalk; there was a fight, and [17-year-old] Trayvon wound up dead on the ground, a single gunshot to the chest. When police arrived, they found Zimmerman standing near him, blood coming from injuries to his nose and the back of his head, according to a police report. The back of his shirt also was wet and had grass clippings on it. A 911 caller described the fight as two people wrestling. A 13-year-old boy who witnessed part of the fight said he saw Zimmerman on the ground and heard someone calling for help. Zimmerman told police that was him. Lawyers for Trayvon’s family say it was the high school junior.
What has many people outraged is not only the volunteer crime fighter’s deadly actions, but also the Florida law that has thus far given him legal cover.
In 2005, Florida passed “one of the nation’s strongest so-called ‘stand your ground’ self-defense laws,” according to CBS News. The law allows a person to use deadly force if he or she “reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
Martin didn’t have to actually pose a threat to Zimmerman. Zimmerman just had to feel threatened by the teenager who had gone out to buy some Skittles and an ice tea, according to news reports.
At a press conference on Friday, the victim’s father, Tracy Martin, said Zimmerman could not have acted in self defense. “What was [Trayvon] gonna do, attack him with a bag of Skittles?” he asked. This morning on The Today Show, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said Zimmerman was “reacting to” the color of her son’s skin. “He committed no crime. My son wasn’t doing anything but walking on the sidewalk, and I just don’t understand why this situation got out of control,’’ she said.
Meanwhile, 13-year-old Austin McLendon “hasn’t been the same” since he heard the altercation that led to Martin’s death, The Huffington Post reported. McLendon “was standing less than 20 yards away from Martin when he was shot,” but “didn’t see much that night.” His mother told The Huffington Post that her son is upset about reports that said “a 13-year-old witness has claimed Zimmerman, and not Martin, was screaming for help” when both she and her son “are adamant that the teen could not see who was screaming.”
Trayvon’s parents have organized a petition at Change.org asking Florida’s 18th District State’s Attorney to investigate Tayvon’s “murder” and to prosecute Zimmerman for it. The petition describes their son as a hero, who, at nine years old, pulled his father from a burning kitchen. The grieving parents have also asked the FBI to investigate, ABC News reported.
Two other rallies are planned for this week, the Orlando Sentinel reported, and both the FBI and the U.S. Justice department have gotten involved, even as the Sanford police chief continues to defend his department’s investigation.
Zimmerman targeted “young black men who appeared to be outsiders,” The Miami Herald reported. He also “called police 46 times since Jan. 1, 2011 to report disturbances, break-ins, windows left open and other incidents” and was known to be strict, according to one teenager.
In a letter to the Orlando Sentinel, however, Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, said his son is not a racist, but is Hispanic and grew up in a multi-racial family. “He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever …,” the letter reportedly said. “The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth.”
At The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates has been following the case closely, and his colleague James Fallows commended him for his efforts, noting though that the story isn’t just a “black story” about race relations. “It’s about self-government, rule of law, equality before the law, accountability of power, and every other value that we contend is integral to the American ideal.” Thus one might wonder why, if Think Progress is correct, Fox News has only broadcast one story about the case, while CNN has broadcast 41 and MSNBC has broadcast 13. A site search of Trayvon Martin’s name at National Review also came up empty, as did one at The Weekly Standard. Don’t conservatives care about these issues?
What Do you think?
Is the Trayvon Martin case about more than racial profiling?