I have to admit it: I’m angry. And sad, confused, disappointed.
The George Zimmerman trial ended with an acquittal of the charges of 2nd degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was determined to have “stood his ground,” and justifiable by Florida law. I register surprise, but for me, it’s a question more of justice than the law.
Justice says that a young man should be able to walk to the store for Skittles, wearing a hoodie and a different shade of skin than many of the neighbors there. The law says a man in Florida has the right to own a handgun and to stand his ground when he feels threatened. The law says that the case against Zimmerman couldn’t be proved, while justice says Martin should still be alive.
Unfortunately, both sides of the debate will try to vilify the Neighborhood Watch volunteer and the hoodie-wearing youth. The fact is that there are enough injustices to go around, and the truth about motivations and intent will probably never be known. But if Zimmerman wouldn’t have had a gun, and if he had listened to the 911 dispatcher and not followed Martin, would Martin still be alive?
I’m a big fan of the hoodie. And teenagers. I’m a fan of a free country where you can watch out for your neighborhood, and where you can walk down the street without threats. I’m a fan of free speech, and the Amendments to the Constitution. But I’m grieving the loss of a life, the rift in a community, and a country whose laws don’t always make sense.
We’ve got to take a good long look at what we believe about guns, about racial stereotyping, and about educating people to treat each other as their neighbor. Maybe Martin threw a punch; maybe Zimmerman went looking for a fight. But if Martin doesn’t throw a punch, or Zimmerman doesn’t follow him… they never collide violently. The law says no crime was committed, but my heart cries for justice.
Justice won’t happen if we keep treating our neighbors like enemies, those who are “other” like they’re threats, those who look, dress, talk, worship, or believe differently like they’re without merit. Justice won’t happen if we don’t learn from Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, or if we react violently because we’re hurt.
The Bible is full of stories of people who encountered God’s justice, or spoke out about what God cared about in terms of justice. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). Micah took it a step further: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
We can’t react to the tragedy of Martin and Zimmerman until we recognize what justice is. It’s an everyday thing, a process of considering our laws and changing them, an accounting for how we treat each other, and how we experience our lives as part of a bigger picture.
So, today, I’m praying for the family of Trayvon Martin and for George Zimmerman. They all need to know God’s love right now. And I’m praying for us, that we learn from our mistakes so that our children aren’t more of collateral damage of our great country’s battle between law and justice.