Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Trayvon Martin and Racial Profiling

The miscarriage of justice may not be solely in what we understand or disagree about in the facts of the case, but more deeply the narrative of race relations and racial profiling in this country.

I have fond memories of watching NBA All-Star games and other sporting events with my two sons who are now age 31 and 25. When my sons were 17, they were well aware that the best part of an NBA All-Star game was the second half and the last few minutes when winning became more important than showmanship. I believe Trayvon Martin had every intention of returning to his dad’s house to watch the final minutes of the game while eating the last of his Skittles.

As writer DeWayne Wickham writes in USA Today, Zimmerman’s lawyers argued Trayvon Martin was shot because Zimmerman was “losing the fistfight his actions precipitated.” Somehow even before the trial began, the victim was blamed. Is it conceivable that Trayvon also feared for his life and had every intention of defending himself against an unknown armed stranger who had no right to stop him or arrest him?

The reason many people are upset is because in the not guilty verdict there is a presumption by some that the victim is guilty of causing his own death. Somehow, the Florida “Stand Your Ground Law” didn’t afford Trayvon Martin the same rights George Zimmerman had.

Dr. Wornie Reed, the director of the Center for Race and Social Policy at Virginia Tech, has criticized the media, some politicians, and commentators for minimizing race in this case. “African Americans want to talk about profiling and its root cause – racism” while the conversation has been sidetracked by sound bites about Skittles and hoodies.

Is it common place in many communities for African American boys and young men to be profiled as suspicious and potential problems? At the point George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin and called 911, was Trayvon Martin being profiled as a problem to be stopped?

I have three brothers and two sons. Like thousands of African Americans in the United States of America, we all have personal stories of racial profiling. I still have vivid memories of being stopped by police in 1973 while visiting my older brother in California. Riding in his Volkswagon, we were stopped by police; three brothers in a car with a small black & white television. After 45 minutes handcuffed in a jail cell, we were released. My brother, a graduate of Northwestern University, Stanford, and Georgia Tech, was working as a computer engineer for Hewlett Packard. Even though he had his employee badge, license, and registration, we looked “suspicious” and out of place.

My prayers go out to the parents of Trayvon Martin. I grieve over the daily death of innocent victims of gun violence and every manner of violence that violates human dignity. I have no malice towards George Zimmerman. I pray he may experience healing and safety; and a long life not possible for Trayvon Martin.

Rev. Robert Williams is a retired United Methodist pastor in Iowa. I confess I judged Bob as an over-the-top old line radical who was out of touch with the progress we have made in race relations. He would say to me on more than a few occasions, why don’t you Bishops speak out about racism and profiling? Where is the prophetic preaching in our churches? Julius, he would call me, “You know how it feels to be profiled.”

Rev. Williams, who is retired and living in a retirement home, has a t-shirt he used to wear often – “If you are not outraged, then you are not paying attention.”

African Americans in the United States are not of one mind on all things regarding politics, religion, or race. Many who read this article will note they are fully aware of their own stories; never defined by permanent despair, but unyielding hope. Hope in a God of justice and mercy; and a world we can make better.

Within the black community on matters of outrage and resolve, I recall a saying, “It’s a black thing. You just wouldn’t understand.”

May we try to do better by our laws, our living, and our understanding, so Trayvon Martin’s death will not be in vain.

Be encouraged,

Bishop Julius C. Trimble

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