For Trayvon Martin, is there no justice?

David Goldman/ Associated Press: In this March 26, 2012 file photo Jaquan Kelley of Atlanta wears a Skittles wrapper over … Continued


David Goldman/ Associated Press: In this March 26, 2012 file photo Jaquan Kelley of Atlanta wears a Skittles wrapper over his mouth during a rally in memory of slain unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

George Zimmerman, the Florida ‘neighborhood watch’ volunteer armed with a gun, has been acquitted of charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of unarmed African American teenager, Trayvon Martin.

This verdict is at once so shocking and so expected to me that without a doubt it exposes the lie at the heart of the American ‘criminal justice’ system. We do not have, especially where African Americans are concerned, a “justice” system. It is often an injustice system that results in unequal treatment.

Perversely, in fact, it seems that 17-year old Trayvon Martin was just found guilty of his own shooting death. Is this justice? Is this right?

The Psalms teach us that threat is all around, and that human justice is not God’s justice, as in Psalm 55: For I see violence and strife in the city;
making rounds on its walls day and night.
Within are mischief and trouble;
Treachery is in its midst;
Oppression and fraud never leave its streets.

While we pray for God’s ultimate justice to prevail, this can seem far off; it can even seem that God has “forsaken” (Psalm 22) us, and the violent are winning. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. often said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But the arc of the moral universe is one thing, and injustice in the here and now is another.


But God’s justice must be our compass; it points to what is broken here and now, and where we have to go in order that true justice may be achieved. And right now, the unequal American justice system, especially when you are African American, is filled with “oppression and fraud.”

Consider another Florida case, this time of an African American woman: in 2012, Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville, Fla., received a 20-years prison sentence for firing warning shots against her allegedly abusive husband. The judge rejected a defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. She told police it was to escape a brutal beating by her husband, against whom she had already taken out a protective order. Alexander had never been in trouble with the law before.

Marissa Alexander, an African American woman, fired warning shots at her abusive husband, and got 20 years. George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed African American teenager and was acquitted.

Yet, in the up is down, “white is black” world of white racism, an hour after Zimmerman was acquitted, his attorney, Mark O’Mara, reframed the arrest and charging of his client as motivated by racism against George Zimmerman. “Things would have been different for George Zimmerman if he was black for this reason: he would never have been charged with a crime,” O’Mara said.

Really? When arrest and incarceration rates of African Americans in the U.S. are through the roof, even twice as high as as their population in the U.S.?

“There is violence and strife in the city” and “oppression and fraud” are rampant says the Psalmist.

With no apparent sense of irony, after the not-guilty verdict, the brother of George Zimmerman, Robert Zimmerman Jr., said on CNN that he was worried about the safety of his brother, George Zimmerman, because there are “people that would want to take the law into their own hands as they perceive it, or be vigilante’s in some sense.”

Yes, it’s terrible when people who are not law enforcement, like, for example, George Zimmerman, ‘take the law into their own hands as they perceive it.’

Vigilantism does violate God’s justice. It should violate human justice as well, for all Americans.

What now?

“For Trayvon to rest in peace, we should all be peaceful,” said Benjamin Crump, the Martin family lawyer, and he compared the 17-year old to Medgar Evers and Emmet Till and their role in the ongoing struggle for equal civil rights. Demonstrations around the country were, in fact, by and large peaceful despite fear-mongering that they would not.

Beyond peaceful demonstrations, however, the struggle needs to continue in and through the law. “We are outraged and heartbroken over today’s verdict,” NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said in a statement. “We will pursue civil rights charges with the Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the removal of Stand Your Ground laws in every state, and we will not rest until racial profiling in all its forms is outlawed.”

On Sunday, Trayvon Martin’s parents went to church, “leaning on a higher authority,” said Benjamin Crump.

In truth, this is how we bend the “arc of the moral universe”. We must work from both ends, leaning on the anchor in God’s justice at one end of the arc, and pushing hard on the mechanisms of the law at the other.

And the arc of the moral universe does bend. But how long, Oh Lord. How long?

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • JuliaMarks1

    Can we put this in perspective? O. J. SImpson walked out of the courtroom (the first time) a free man.

  • Rongoklunk

    Zimmerman brought it on himself. He started it, and he finished it. If he hadn’t had a gun he never would have followed Trayvon Martin. He wouldn’t even have gotten out of the vehicle. But he had a gun, and that made him brave. And he killed the teenager. And now they say it wasn’t even against the law. America, you have some really stupid laws.

  • exbrown

    Your perspective is very limited. As bad as OJ Simpson’s acquittal was the acquittal of the murderers of Emmett Till was far worse. OJ Simpson was acquitted but in this country hundreds if not thousands of white men have gotten away with murdering black men, women, and children with impunity and never brought to trial or acquitted by all white juries when they were clearly guilty.

  • ibeetb

    America will keep pushing n pushing n pushing n pushing until one day ………well…… Slavery STILL has not yet been atoned for

  • malusk03

    OJ simply proved that if you’re rich enough, you can get away with murder. That case and this one are unrelated.

  • WmarkW

    We live in a backwards world in which Saudi Arabia sits on the UN Human Rights Commission, unseasonably cold weather is proof of global warming, illegal immigrants need restitution for the shadowy existence they’ve led, and George Zimmerman and the Duke Lacrosse team are so “privileged” they have to be prosecuted for crimes they didn’t do.

  • Ripper MrsRipper

    If you ever find yourself in same position that Z was placed in, visit the Gun Rights Attorneys website.

  • jck747

    Martin should have asked what Zimmerman wanted instead of using his presence as an excuse to engage in the kind of altercations he was known for; Zimmerman wasn’t the one who introduced violence into the encounter.

  • Someone Somewhere

    So if a non-white person is acquitted in a killing of a black victim, the result must be racism? What about when a black defendant is acquitted of a crime, even killing, against a white victim? Is that racism, of course not…

    Come on…

    Maybe the prosecutors bungled the case.
    Maybe there was no case to begin with.
    Maybe under the law, GZ was within his rights to do what he did.

  • jcox4

    Are you a reporter, or a propagandist for the Black militant movement?

    The protestors do not respect the rule of law. They do not accept that a jury should be allowed to make a finding of guilt or innocence. Presumably they would prefer a lynch mob to make that decision.

  • jcox4

    America has some stupid laws, I agree. But this case has nothing to do with race.

  • jcox4

    Why didn’t the white community riot? Because unlike the black, they are not obsessed with race.

  • Gail78

    The protestors seem to be respecting the rule of law just fine. Or are you saying that they shouldn’t be allowed to exercse their First Amendment rights because you don’t like the content of their speech?

  • fasttony46

    As an American, I thought GZ would at least received a ” Manslaughter” charge ! To be freed of killing a 17 year old kid. Who was walking home after getting some “munchies” ! The part that gets me is why would GZ get out of his truck. After he was told by the dispatcher, to stay in your truck and leave him alone. He was playing want-to -be -cop ! Started a fight, with the kid ! Kid started beating his ” MMA” skills. GZ is losing ! Pulls out his gun and kills TM ! Is it that cut and dried ? I certainly hope not! My heart goes out to the Martin family!

  • fasttony46

    What is wrong with this country ? Why must some suffer and die ? While others live in opulence and mercy! Don’t those that struggle need help too! Give and inch and gain a mile! Let those that have give, the reward is even greater. How can the politics of the land, make us all suffer ? Is it not fair to help ? Color is not always the barrier. “People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges” ! We are getting closer, but we still have a long way to go! Poor and middle class ! What a choice to have to make!

  • eerock

    Only one race is known for resorting to lynch mobs.

  • Madtown

    The only crime that will convict you is your refusal to accept the amnesty provided by the sacrifice of Jesus on your behalf
    —————
    If you’ve never heard of Jesus, is it a crime? As christianity is not a universally accessible concept, this is an issue for many people. Perhaps there’s an advocate that God chose to send to a different culture to serve as savior to all, yet you have never heard of him.

  • SimonTemplar

    The critics of this verdict are basically saying that they have known all along that Zimmerman should be found guilty (even before he had a trial). These same critics were not part of the jury and did not have access to the evidence and the witness testimony. In other words, they believe that people like Zimmerman should simply be judged guilty by popular poll, celebrity decree or journalistic concensus. They have no regard for due process. They evidently do not believe in the concept that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. Zimmerman was not proven guilty and so now these critics say they have no faith in the justice system.

    Perhaps they should rethink their position and decide instead to have no faith in the news media, which evidently so misrepresented the facts of this case. The press has once again been completely irresponsible and this includes network anchors, print journalists and opinion bloggers who throw out their opinions in lieu of facts.

    Perhaps they should also have less faith in entertainment personalities who seem to think that their fame gives them license to tweet out of the abundance of their ignorance.

  • john237

    Looks like, America under the current timid President, civil rights laws and prejudicial police force and colored blind Court system cannot give justice to dead T. Martin and millions of Martins, who are behind bars in almost all the American jails. Let the International Human Rights Organization or the International Court take up this matter for the final resolution.

  • Catken1

    Or maybe Scott’s picked wrong in God’s little Russian Roulette game, and should have been some other religion. When he’s screaming in eternal agony, perhaps he’ll think to himself, “Gee, it’s a fair cop. I should have KNOWN God wanted me to pick some other religion than the one my parents taught me. Therefore, I deserve to burn forever and ever in pain. God only loves those who guess right.”

  • Matthew Collins

    If no crimes did Americans commit from now on, other common but currently legal acts would be deemed criminal… such as smoking, or drinking. That’s not pessimism, it’s a fact. Many states have made deals to keep their private prison labor systems at 90% capacity. They do not have a choice. They would HAVE to keep jailing people, or else extend the sentences of everyone there already till more crimes start to be committed.

  • 3vandrum

    Why do you invoke God in this issue? The criminal justice system was not created by God, it was created by us, the human beings. Do not bring God here. Not everyone believes in God or his justice. If the American justice system is wrong or fraud do not appeal to God.
    While we pray for God’s ultimate justice to prevail, this can seem far off; it can even seem that God has “forsaken” (Psalm 22) us, and the violent are winning. Who are the violent?

  • J is for Justice

    We have a legal system, not a justice system. The jury has spoken and the Department of Justice has had their hands tied. There was no “special circumstances” in the prosecutors case. Zimmerman can’t be tried on federal charges due to the protection of double jeopardy. These are facts…but Zimmerman and his look-a-like brother will probably have to remain in hiding for a very long time, if not forever. This is a prison of his own making and neither one will have a life of freedom…they will be looking over their shoulders for a very long time,if not forever.mI am not advocating violence against them, but this is the situation and it is also a fact.

  • J is for Justice

    Sorry for the misspellings, and repetition,.I should have proofread my comment.

  • Billonyourside

    Why is the media racist? it makes them money! If Trevon was white and Zimmerman was black people would be celebrating justice! Fact…Trevon came up to Zimmerman and initiated the confrontation; Fact..Trevon initiated the physical altercation. Fact..Trevon was smashing Zimmermans head on the concrete ( an act that can cause brain damage and kill a person) Fact..Zimmerman even then did not attempt to use his gun. Fact..Trevon saw his gun and went for it and made life threatening comments that he was going to kill him. At that point both guys struggled for the gun and Trevon got shot. If that is not an act of self defense then there is no such thing. The media is afraid to speak the truth..Trevon was a young thug. It is irrelevant if he is white, black, green or blue. Apparently there is a portion of the population that now feels if the American judicial process does not return the finding they want ( which by the way is not based on facts but, in this case black racism, then they have a right to take to the streets and demand ” THEIR justice. The media loves this and fosters it. Of interest when was the last time you saw any coverage when a black man kills a white man? Trevon had a fair trial and when the jurors heard the facts they determined Zimmerman was not guilty. End of story.

  • cdc1

    Double jeopardy does not apply because of the separate sovereign doctrine. Each government may put a person on trial once. First Florida, now the US government. He should move out of the country now because a lunch mob unhappy with the facts wants to kill him.

  • David Manhart

    The same people decrying zimmerman getting off charges of murdering a thug who attacked him are the same people who cheered oj simpson getting off from murdering 2 innocent people.. they have no sense of justice.

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