On February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Fla., George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old boy. Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch "captain," says he was acting in self-defense, and — incredibly — Zimmerman has yet to be arrested or charged with a crime.
However, thanks to the organizing efforts of Mr. Martin’s parents, civil rights groups, media commentaries, and concerned citizens, our latest racialized miscarriage of criminal justice is now getting the widespread attention that it deserves.
On Monday, the US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced it would launch an independent investigation into the causes and circumstances of Mr. Martin’s death.
Many important commentaries have been written about Mr. Martin’s tragic death — in particular, Mark Jefferson’s piece on the Urban Cusp merits special attention.
My aim in writing about Mr. Martin today is threefold:
First, Christians ought to lament publicly when a young black man receives a death-dealing blow — or in this case, gunshot — from an unjustifiable use of force. The occasion for lament intensifies when one considers that local law enforcement, as of today, has neither arrested nor charged Zimmerman.
This apparent disregard for one of our most cherished legal precepts — equal justice under the law — is a principal reason why Mr. Martin’s family, along with hundreds of thousands of citizens across this nation, are protesting and petitioning on his behalf. While all of the relevant facts of the situation have yet to be fully sorted, it seems highly probable that engaging an unarmed teenager with deadly force did, indeed, exceed any legal appeal to self-defense.
Lament, as Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann notes, is a profound, prophetic indication that something is out of joint socially — a visible acknowledgement that God’s just and peaceable dream of shalom has been shattered on Earth.
Speaking frankly, a multiracial lament concerning Mr. Martin’s slaying might help reduce the cynicism many black and brown Christians harbor about where racial justice stands within evangelical movements for racial reconciliation.
Second, Mr. Martin’s parents have started a petition that merits signing. I encourage you to read about the particulars of this case and consider offering your support.
Third, if you reside in the Greater New York City area, I invite you to attend “A Million Hoody March” at 6 pm TONIGHT in New York City’s Union Square.
The hoody signifies Mr. Martin’s attire at the time of his death.
In the case of Trayvon Martin, the moral arc of Florida’s criminal justice system is bending towards injustice. We can — if we are willing — play a part in tilting it towards justice.
Andrew Wilkes works at Habitat for Humanity-NYC as the Faith and Community Relations associate and serves as an affiliate minister at the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York. A former Sojourners policy and organizing fellow, Andrew is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and Hampton University. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @andrewjwilkes