On Saturday evening, a jury informed us that they believed George Zimmerman was not guilty of murdering 17-year-old, unarmed Trayvon Martin. It was hard to sleep after the verdict was announced. Despite the fact that I had to get up early the next morning and preach about the Good Samaritan, I could not go to sleep.
As I have aged, I have made a concerted effort to nurture self-doubt. I went to seminary very certain about many things. I left with many questions. Theological certainty has died, while questions have flourished. In my mid-20s, I became an activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights; in my early 40s, I became a broader peace and justice activist. Each of those incarnations began with certainty that soon faded as I became increasingly aware of the complexity and nuance around those issues. Prophets, of course, must speak with a clear voice, but my conviction often sounded more definitive than I felt.
Tossing and turning Saturday night, I tried to review what I knew about the trial. I put my understanding of the facts against what I know about our flawed judicial system. Having lived in north Florida—which really is South Georgia with more palm trees—I was quite aware that racism and prejudice, gun violence and vigilante justice still have a strong hold there. Fox News is still where most white people in that part of the country get their news/views.
So, is it possible that the six women on that jury heard facts I didn’t know? Why on earth was there not at least one African-American on that jury? Were they able to consider the history of racism in that region? Didn’t it matter to them that Trayvon was an unarmed teenager who was walking home? How did they rationalize vigilante justice that sent Zimmerman after the boy in the first place?
In the end, I have to trust that the systems works, though too many innocent people have been released over the years to put full confidence in that system. I have to hope that those six women were smarter or wiser than me. I have to rely on my own self-doubt and avoid the temptation to categorically call this a modern “lynching.” I have to pray that we all will be more alert to the racial injustices in the “justice” system and that maybe this young man’s death will move us toward being a better nation. If I did not doubt myself, I might become bitter and angry and despondent. As it is, I will say only that maybe I was wrong this time and redouble my resolve to do all I can to ensure there will not be a next time. For Trayvon, there will not. May he not have died in vain.
by Michael Piazza
The Center for Progressive Renewal