I had a lot of individual conversations over the past month or so regarding the tragic shooting and publicity surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent George Zimmerman arrest. As I have shared with those who have approached me during the week, it was a fascinating story to watch as I drove to CT. During the course of my travels, the facts caused the narrative to change. In Iowa and Illinois, the story was described as an angry white man shooting a thug-looking black youth. By the time I got to CT, some Hispanics were mad that the shooter was described as “White Hispanic.” Some thought the press was trying to start a crisis between blacks and Hispanics; others thought the press was being insensitive to the hispanic culture. Nobody, regardless of their ethnic background, seemed to think that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were doing anything but grandstanding. After my return, we learned that the 911 tape had been edited and that the photographs being used in the beginning were hardly recent pictures. So what should we think?
I think we should let the court system work itself out. Whether Mr. Zimmerman was justified in shooting Mr. Martin under the Florida statute often referred to as the “Stand your ground” law will be up to lawyers to argue and juries to decide. Obviously, witness testimony will be important. Pray that the truth is told and that people on the jury vote based on the testimony rather than rumors and innuendos. If Mr. Zimmerman hunted Trayvon Martin down and shot him out of spite, then the law should not shield him. If Mr. Martin attacked Mr. Zimmerman for being a creep, then the law will likely shield Mr. Zimmerman. No matter the outcome, I think it will be a good thing for these laws to be examined more closely, both in Florida and other parts of the country.
The unaddressed elephant in the room is the charge of racism. As this story unfolded, I was reminded of Tommy Lee Jones’ statement to Will Smith in Men in Black. When Smith’s character asserts that people need to be told the truth, Jones’ character is adamant in his refusal. “Individuals are smart; people are dumb.” Jones’ character, as well as the press, understood human behavior quite well. Individually, we seem to be able to get along well enough. Two cops here in Iowa and a trooper in PA were really quite worried that the public would ever think that a police force in a decent sized community would ever be this racially insensitive, as if the force would lack minority representation or have minorities that think they should be subjected to this kind of nonsense. Their training and make up (and the presence of cell phone and dashboard cameras) simply weed out those types of individuals. Similarly, blacks, whites, Hispanics, and Asians all asked whether people in the South are really that way. The fact that we as strangers could address the elephant of racism that openly in rest areas and restaurants suggests to me that we, as a country, have made significant strides in our dealings with one another.
Yet, the memory of the hurt remains. It is always a scab waiting to be ripped off at the slightest provocation. My message of “let everything work itself out” was unsatisfactory to too many. Yet our own near “race war” in Davenport taught me much about how cases like this are used. The press sensationalizes them to make money and earn reputation. Politicians use them to get votes. Men like Sharpton and Jackson seemingly use the cry and uncertainty to increase their power and prestige (though, admittedly, maybe Sharpton and Jackson are not grandstanders but rather unable to forgive or forget when they have been victimized and need to be reminded of the Gospel). And the bystanders and families are left wondering “what really happened?” I do not know the entirety of the facts of this case. I wonder if even the two individuals did during this terrible tragedy. What we can do for those involved, however, is pray that the local voices of God’s message of atonement and reconciliation through the work and person of Christ, especially during this season of Lent and Easter, will proclaim strongly and boldly the need for repentance and forgiveness, that the penalty has already been paid, that the individuals who make up the people will realize that they can forgive those who have repented of behavior and attitudes against them, because they were forgiven by Him first. Will it sell a lot of magazines? Nope. Will it end the press’ ability to manipulate people? Not in the beginning. But over time, and through His grace, all things can be healed, even racism. And then, maybe people will learn what individuals know and we can begin to live in peace.