This post has been buzzing around my head for a few days now, but the threads of my feelings and thoughts were too difficult to unpick.
Three articles I’ve read in that time on the trial and acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman have been among the most eloquent and perhaps the hardest to read, but thoroughly worth doing so. They’re also linked.
One. Gary Younge’s article in the Guardian: “Open Season on Black Boys after a verdict like this” It was briefly taken down for legal reasons, but is now up on the site.
Appeals for calm in the wake of such a verdict raise the question of what calm there can possibly be in a place where such a verdict is possible.
In a nutshell, he put his finger on the feeling of dismay, disappointment, chest-constricting worry and sadness felt by so many Black people right now. While I think it’s wise to call for cooler heads to prevail, there has also been a lot of policing of Black people’s reactions to the case by commentators in the media. Some conservative commentators have pointed to the statistics of Black on Black crime and urged the community to mourn about that before they consider what happened to Travyon. The implications of the verdict for young Black men are hard enough to swallow without the community being told how they can feel about it. One issue does not negate the other and it is the privilege of those with power who seek to dictate to others how and under what circumstances they can mourn.
Two. Ta’Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic: “Trayvon Martin and the irony of American Justice” This was a hard read because Coates outlines how exactly the acquittal was possible from a legal standpoint. And no matter how unjust the verdict is, he’s right:
In trying to assess the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, two seemingly conflicting truths emerge for me. The first is that based on the case presented by the state, and based on Florida law, George Zimmerman should not have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter. The second is that the killing of Trayvon Martin is a profound injustice.
Coates forensically examines Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws. Based on the criteria in the law, it would have been difficult to secure a conviction. It is a badly drafted law. Furthermore, Coates explores the historical context to this and the criminalisation of Black people by the American legal system. He concludes:
It is painful to say this: Trayvon Martin is not a miscarriage of American justice, but American justice itself. This is not our system malfunctioning. It is our system working as intended. To expect our juries, our schools, our police to single-handedly correct for this, is to look at the final play in the final minute of the final quarter and wonder why we couldn’t come back from twenty-four down.
In sum: bad laws lead to bad outcomes. The law can be applied systematically and you can still have injustice. As I said in number one above, disempowerment: Black people are most affected by these laws but are historically disadvantaged to change them.
Three. Anthea Butler, Religion Dispatches: ” The Zimmerman Acquittal, America’s Racist God”
When George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that it was God’s will that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, he was diving right into what most good conservative Christians in America think right now. Whatever makes them protected, safe, and secure, is worth it at the expense of the black and brown people they fear.
Their god is the god that wants to erase race, make everyone act “properly” and respect, as the president said, “a nation of laws”; laws that they made to crush those they consider inferior.
When the laws were never made for people who were considered, constitutionally, to be three-fifths of a person, I have to ask: Is this just? Is it right? Is God the old white male racist looking down from white heaven, ready to bless me if I just believe the white men like Rick Perry who say the Zimmerman case has nothing to do with race?
You already know the answer: No.
Like Coates, Butler identifies the problematic laws. But she also lifts the lid on another, less talked about aspect of this case that has played out in the media since the campaign began to have Zimmerman tried for Trayvon’s murder.
As a Christian, it’s an aspect that shames and worries me deeply, but I welcome Butler’s honesty. Laws like Stand your Ground and many of the Voter ID laws are being pushed by Conservatives, a large number of whom are from the White Christian Right and who have legislated in fear of so many things (globalisation? religioius pluralism? loss of privilege?) but which finds its face in Black and Brown people. These are laws created without justice in mind and they are badly drafted and do not work.
I have seen the tweets and facebook posts. I’ve talked to friends and heard the sadness in their voices. To be honest, I don’t know what to say. I know the “arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” I know the balance will be set right and that “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 2 vs 14) but at times like this I feel the weight of injustice and I wonder, how long, Lord? I wrestle with the paradox of what I see and what I have reason to believe. Like Jacob, I wrestle with (my understanding of) God and discover that he doesn’t fade in and out like a faulty radio but He’s everywhere, being revealed and hidden at the same time. When He seems hidden, sometimes I lack the words and the courage to name Him.
Martin Luther King said: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.”
It is right that we don’t feel peace because justice has not been done. The justice system has run its course but the struggle continues.
“If you don’t let us sleep, we won’t let you dream.”*
We need better laws so that the system can function better. We need to have the hard conversations in our legislatures, communities and societies. We need to wrestle with racism and and injustice.
We need to secure justice and peace for Trayvon and all the others like him. And for us, too.
*There was a play at the Royal Court Theatre earlier this year or last by this name about the impact of the government cuts on young people. It has stuck with me as a phrase of resistance.