The Common Good

Why White Evangelical Churches Don't Wear Hoodies

Lisa Sharon Harper, Director of Mobilizing for Sojourners, is an African American evangelical leader who cares deeply about the church and God's heart for racial, economic, and gender justice. Devoted to the Scriptures, Harper takes to heart the words of Isaiah, "Learn to do right; seek justice." (Isaiah 1:17). In a recent interview, she described her response upon learning the news of the verdict: "Shocked. Absolutely shocked... I went to sleep that night feeling numb. I slept hard that night. Then, as soon as I woke up the next morning, I started crying. Weeping. It hit me. The reality of the moment really hit me."

For Harper, and many others in the black community, the Zimmerman verdict provoked significant consternation, grief, and lament. Harper clarified the source of her grief: "The verdict -- when you go by the letter of the law -- may have been an unavoidable verdict under current Florida law, but the law itself was unjust." According to Harper, Florida law has expanded its understanding of "self-defense." Unlike traditional self-defense scenarios, in Florida the defendant who claims "self-defense" does not have "duty to retreat." They are encouraged to "stand their ground." Under the so called principles of "Stand Your Ground," Zimmerman had no legal deterrent to initiating his interaction with Trayvon and continuing to engage when he perceived the hooded 17 year old Trayvon Martin as a threat. Reportedly, Martin was walking through the gated neighborhood on the way to where he was staying after picking up some Skittles and an Arizona ice-tea at the neighborhood convenience store. Zimmerman reported to the police he killed Martin in self-defense after an altercation.

For Harper, Zimmerman's behavior was deeply impacted by his racial presuppositions. Zimmerman reported a "suspicious" person walking through the neighborhood. For Zimmerman, Martin was suspicious in large part because he was black. Harper describes the damage of this type of assumption: "Racial profiling ascribes intent to a person; not based on their actions or behavior, but based on their physical characteristics." There had been recent burglaries committed by black men in Zimmerman's neighborhood. Even though Trayvon Martin did not manifest any suspicious behavior, he was suspect to Zimmerman simply because of the color of his skin and the fact that he had his hood up in the rain. For Harper, this is deeply alarming for the black community who can no longer assume equal protection under the law. In a recent article for Sojourners, "The Zimmerman Verdict and the Resurrection of the Old Jim Crow", Harper describes it this way: "The old Jim crow is back... the lives, souls, and livelihoods of white Americans are worthy of more protection under the law."