The Common Good

Justice

The Color of Justice

Oddly, I wasn't there the night George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. I wasn't in the jury box either. Some commentators, like Ezra Klein and Ta-Nahesi Coates, are saying the not guilty verdict was appropriate according to Florida's "stand your ground" law. (Note that they are not saying that the Florida law is appropriate; Klein uses the word outrageous).

If this verdict was appropriate, though, what about verdicts in cases that were similar except for the color of the defendant? What happened to the "stand your ground" law when the jury reached its verdict against Marissa Alexander — an African American woman from Jacksonville, Fla.?

And anyway, why should fear of attack justify shooting to kill? It didn't in the case of  John White — an African American man from Long Island, N.Y. — who shot a (white) teenager in 2006 (accidentally, he says, when the boy was trying to grab his gun).

John White, it appears, had good reason to fear the boys who showed up on his doorstep that night. That's probably why the governor commuted his sentence after he had served five months. And White no doubt should have served some time, according to New York law — his gun was unregistered, and if he hadn't been holding it when he went to the door, a scuffle probably wouldn't have escalated into manslaughter.

But, some say, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Is this true?

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Traffic Cameras, Domestic Drones, and Mandatory Sentencing

At first I had no problem with domestic drones joining the plethora of surveillance cameras to “keep us safe.”

Big Brother — keeping his eye on me from above in stores, in traffic and everywhere else — would find my personal reality show boring. As a pastor, I’m used to living in a fishbowl. Besides, as John Calvin said, if you fear the eye of a human more than the eye of God, you have spiritual issues to address.

But then, there may be another problem with increased surveillance and flooding our nation’s skies with drones. Let’s take traffic cameras as an example.

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Experiments in Love

When I got off the plane at O’Hare Airport in Chicago on my way home to Boston on April 15, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Televisions blaring everywhere showed my beloved city at her premier event of the year, the Boston Marathon. Everyone knows the rest of the story.

“Is this for real? How can this be?” I asked, unable at first to face the reality of what had occurred. Feelings of fear and anger followed quickly on the heels of the denial.

Leaders responded quickly: the mayor, the governor, the president. “Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice,” promised President Barack Obama.

What is justice? Vengeful words immediately spewed from talk shows and bloggers’ keyboards. “We must catch them alive and make them suffer as much as possible. That will pay them back for what they did,” spewed those who equate justice with revenge.

Of course, violence begets more violence. Gandhi put it succinctly: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Paul exhorted the Romans, “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. . . Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. (Romans 12:17,19.)”

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An Invocation for May Day

Editor's Note: The following is the text of an invocation being given at the May Day Rally in Madison, Wis.

When we gather at a place like our State Capitol, there are people here from all sorts of religious and non-religious backgrounds.

There are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, Hindus and and Bahai, Humanists and people who are pretty sure they believe something, but don’t know exactly how the heck to describe it.

What connects us all this day is a spirit of hospitality, a spirit of compassion and a spirit of justice.

At their worst, religious and other beliefs can isolate us in little camps where we see outsiders as threats. At their best, they call us to hospitality, not only to those we know, but to the strangers in our midst – those who come from other places, speak other languages, seek a new life. At their best, they call us to embrace those who seek to be part of our community.

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Talking to My Son About Boston

I woke up this morning, like everyone else, to the news of a shootout with one suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing and the ongoing manhunt for a second brother. Like many others, I’ve heard lots of misinformation over the past few days about whether officials did or didn’t have a suspect, whether they did or didn’t have them in custody, and so on.

“I heard someone dropped a bomb on Boston,” said Mattias, my 9-year-old son, over breakfast while I scrolled through the breaking news reports.

“Not exactly,” I said. “It was two guys. Two brothers who came from [another country] to go to college at MIT.” They put homemade bombs in and around trashcans by the finish line of the marathon.”

“Why?” he asked.

“I really don’t know.”

“Maybe they were angry about something, and they didn’t know how to talk about their feelings.”

“Maybe so,” I nodded.

“Did they hurt people?”

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Heartbreak Beyond Heartbreak (Hill)

The Boston Marathon bombing is so shocking because it was obviously done by someone(s) who wanted to prove something not to themselves, but to others. Could they display to the world his repressed rage enough? Could they divert attention to their cause enough? Could they maim and kill the innocent for some misguided agenda enough? That is what makes this act of terrorism so terrifying: a sick person or people trying to prove something to others by targeting those who are simply proving something to themselves, or trying to do something for others. It is jarring.

Ninety minutes before the bombs detonated, I was concluding a presentation on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. That recent immersion into Luke’s narrative shaped my video viewing of the bombing’s aftermath. The one who “fell into the hands of robbers” was everywhere. The assaulted and bloodied were scattered by the side of the road, in this case, Boylston Street. Instead of people passing by on the other side, however, it was quite the opposite. Spectators and emergency medical personnel waded into the grisly scene and treated the wounded with exquisite care.

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Boston Bombings: Deliver Us from Evil

What do you say in the face of evil?

The stories from Monday’s attacks at the Boston Marathon are heartbreaking, gut-wrenching. One in particular stands out to me. A woman was waiting for her husband to cross the finish line when the bombs exploded. For three hours she searched frantically for him, not knowing if he was alive or dead, not knowing if he was frantic and looking for her. Her voice cracked and tears flowed with the raw memory as she told of the moment when she and her husband embraced.

Moments like this, even when they end happily, remind us of our vulnerability. As hard as we try to protect ourselves with heightened security measures, we know that complete invulnerability is impossible. I am vulnerable. My wife is vulnerable. My children are vulnerable. We cannot escape it.

In the face of gun violence and bombings, gender violence and rape, we would be irresponsible not to ask big questions about evil and human vulnerability.

A few hours after the bombing, President Barack Obama addressed our natural desire to carry out justice after these events.

[M]ake no mistake; we will get to the bottom of this. We will find out who did this, we will find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice.

Like the president, I want to take action against evil and I want to know I am secure. I hate admitting that I’m vulnerable. But the president’s words didn’t reassure me. They made me feel more vulnerable because the phrase “full weight of justice” is always a veiled call to violence. 

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