The recent “not guilty” verdict out of Sanford, FL, reflects the principle of the American legal system that if there is reasonable doubt, courts will err on the side of innocence. I dispute neither the principle nor the decision by the jury. But that doesn’t leave me satisfied about the outcome.
Jesus said that true justice exceeds that of “the scribes and Pharisees” – and the same could be said of the prosecution and defense. Legal justice seeks only to assign guilt or innocence. Holistic justice works for the life, liberty, and well-being of all. And it especially works for reconciliation between the two Americas that can be identified by their reaction to the case.
One America now has more reason to believe that their sons can be presumed guilty until proven innocent without a reasonable doubt when they’re walking down the street armed only with Skittles and an iced tea.
The other America now has more reason to believe that they can get away with murder, or something close to it, as long as the victim is young and black and wearing a hoodie.
One America now has less reason to believe that their sons will have equal protection under the law.
The other America is more secure in its right to “stand its ground” and will be even more determined to carry concealed weapons – and use them.
One America is threatened by the “reasonable doubt” that protects the other.
One America watches as the other America expands their gun rights while reducing protections for its own voting rights.
The other America sincerely believes their own gun rights are more threatened than their counterparts’ voting rights.
One America feels its story is always told beginning with point two – in this case, with an unarmed teenager in an altercation, not with point one, an armed adult pursuing an unarmed teenager.
The other America considers point one irrelevant to the case, and therefore not worth talking about.
One America is scandalized that an armed adult would assess as a threat an innocent, unarmed teenager walking down the street.
The other America is scandalized that anyone would consider the armed adult as anything other than innocent and justified in that assessment.
Members of both Americas are coming together to form an emerging America that wants something better for all Americans. That emerging America wants us to deal deeply and honestly with our largely untreated, unacknowledged American original sin: a cocktail of white privilege, manifest destiny, and racism – in both its personal and institutional forms.
That emerging America believes that the best world is one where people multiply plowshares and pruning hooks, not swords and spears. Or in contemporary terms – one where people multiply community playgrounds and parks, not guns and drones.
That emerging America wants to bring people of all races, religions, regions, parties, and classes together in a common pursuit: a nation and world where there is equal liberty and justice for all.
Emerging America is disgusted by political parties that win by dividing America through wedge issues, and then can blame the other side when they have rendered the nation so polarized as to be ungovernable.
Emerging America is equally disgusted by cable channels and religious organizations that collude with those political parties at every turn – because fear and wedge-ry not only win elections, they rake in profits.
Emerging America doesn’t love Trayvon and hate George, or love George and hate Trayvon. Emerging America owns both Trayvon and George as their beloved sons, their Cain and Abel, their Jacob and Esau, their older and younger sons in Jesus’ most famous (but often worst-interpreted) parable. That’s why Emerging America is heartbroken about the recent verdict.
But we will not let our hearts break apart in sharp and dangerous shards of resentment and shrapnel of fear. With God’s help, we will let the pain of love break our hearts open in renewed hunger and thirst for true justice and peace … for all people, equal and indivisible.