Advocacy for Social Justice Blog: A Life is a Life As Long as You're White

7/15/2013

There’s a lot we don’t know about what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin on the night Trayvon was killed.  But here’s what we do know: George Zimmerman saw Trayvon Martin walking through his neighborhood and decided that he was up to no good.  He called 911 and decided to follow him even though the 911 dispatcher told him not to. Trayvon Martin was unarmed – having nothing on him but a bag of skittles and some tea. At some point an altercation happened between the two that ended with George Zimmerman shooting and killing Trayvon Martin. This past Saturday, George Zimmerman was found not guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin. That’s what we know – what no one disputes.

I am not a legal expert. I have no idea whether or not the jury made the right decision according to Florida law. But I do know that if the circumstances were exactly the same except that Trayvon Martin were white and George Zimmerman were black, we would have a different outcome. I’m not saying the jury was racist. I’m saying we all are. We are all guilty of creating a society where black people’s lives aren’t worth as much as white people’s lives.

I am white. For the last seven years, I’ve lived in a black neighborhood and pastored a black church. Mothers and fathers every day fear for their black sons’ lives. They know all too well that one of their kids in the wrong place at the wrong time could be another Trayvon Martin. They know all too well that police and vigilantes (like Zimmerman) will assume that their kids, and especially their sons, are up to no good because of how they are dressed or how they are walking or simply because they are black. Their greatest worry every single day is, “Will my boy make it back home alive today?” 

Now I know there are some counter-arguments to the whole “Trayvon was just a nice boy,” story. There were facebook pictures of him smoking marijuana, for instance. But even how we deal with teenage stupidity is different towards whites and blacks. For example, white kids and black kids are just as likely to use illegal drugs, but black kids are three times more likely to end up in prison because of it. When white kids drink before 21 or smoke weed, it’s considered stupid teenage behavior – something we all assume they will eventually grow out of. They might need to be grounded, but not arrested. When it’s a black kid doing the same thing, it’s considered criminal.

I also know that many are asking, “Why is the black community not outraged by black on black violence which kills far more black people than people like George Zimmerman?” That assertion reveals more about the person making it than the black community because the black community is outraged over black on black crime. To say it isn’t means you simply are so disconnected from the black community that you have no idea what’s going on.  At least a half dozen times a year in my neighborhood, mothers who have lost kids to violence organize Stop the Violence initiatives. Neighborhood leaders host rallies and panels and violence prevention conversations. They march. They pray. They cry. African Americans overwhelmingly support gun control legislation because they are disproportionately affected by all kinds of gun violence.

This case is about far more than George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.  It is about all of us. And as Christians, it should also be about God and who God calls us to be. This past Sunday’s lectionary is the story of the Good Samaritan – the story where Jesus shares with his Jewish audience that the hated and feared Samaritan is in reality their neighbor – that a Samaritan’s life is worth just as much as a Jew’s life. The question is not so much whether George Zimmerman thought Trayvon Martin’s life was as valuable as his. The question is, do we? 

“The lawyer wanting to justify himself asked, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A black boy was wearing a hoodie…’”


R.G. Wilson-Lyons
Community Church without Walls

Note: Thanks to Kristin Harper for giving me the idea of connecting the George Zimmerman not guilty verdict to the story of the Good Samaritan.

 

The Advocacy for Social Justice Blog is produced by the North Alabama Conference Advocacy for Social Justice Team to help people think about justice issues through the lens of faith. It is intended to be a place where United Methodists can listen and learn from each other with mutual respect and understanding. (For the purpose of this blog see the the post “The work of justice is the work of the church”.) Please join the conversation by adding your comment below. If you have an idea for a blog topic or would like to make a submission to the Advocacy for Social Justice Blog please contact the Team Convenor Rev. R.G. Wilson-Lyons at rg.lyons@umcna.org.


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