Be calm. Be reasonable. Really?

Supporters of Trayvon Martin, a teenager shot and killed by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, march in Sanford, Florida. Photo: Ira Bostic
Supporters of Trayvon Martin, a teenager shot and killed by neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, march in Sanford, Florida. Photo: Ira Bostic
Published July 19, 2013

Episcopal News Service

I was told by a relative yesterday that he watched news of the Zimmerman verdict along with his eleven-year-old daughter. My young niece owns five hoodies, is 5’11” tall, and weighs 135 pounds. Her dad said that as the news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal came across full screen in pictures with script simultaneously crawling along the bottom, my namesake became extremely quiet. When her dad looked over at her, she was soundless and tears were streaming down her face, slowly dripping off her chin. I wonder what I’d have seen had I been able to look into those knowing eyes. I wonder what a jury might have seen. I know that she gets it. My niece gets it and she’s only 11 years old.

This is the same young relative that I often speak of publicly. When she was five or six, I ended a telephone call with her with the usual, “I love you, little girl.” She responded quickly and rather matter-of-factly, “I know.” I asked her how she knew. She said simply, “I have those kinds of ears!”

I pray that we will empower, hold each other accountable, and remind each other and ourselves to develop the kinds of eyes, ears, minds and hearts that lift us outside the prison of racism that we all inhabit.

Since the Zimmerman not-guilty verdict, there have been pleas to the general public to be reasonable and to speak dispassionately about this unreasonable decision. Be reasonable about a finding of innocence for a man who snuffed out the life of a 17-year-old, guilty of going home. I find that I am not able to do that. At least, not now, I’m not. I pray that I am able now to speak clearly, evenly and thoughtfully but I know it will not be objectively, serenely, or anything like dispassionately. I am a black woman who has spent most of her life experiencing racism, raising awareness of it, teaching about it, and suggesting ways of working collectively and individually to eliminate it. And I am angry. I am passionate. But none of that means that my only recourse is to go out and kill someone or stand my ground with loaded weapons prepared to kill. Because of my passion, I stand my ground in asking Christians to examine the interrelated systems that produce stand-your-ground laws, that spawn vigilantes who are exonerated of heinous crimes, and would populate juries with individuals whose purposes include exploitation of life-and-death trials as fodder for best sellers. In such cases, interrelated systems make a mockery of the entire judicial process.

Even the Zimmerman defense lawyers urged consideration of only the issues at hand which, in part, required ignoring Florida “stand your ground” laws that legalize the use of deadly force when one believes there is threat of bodily harm. Along with the jurors, we were asked not to consider the weight of racial inequity in our country for the last several centuries. We were asked to forget slavery, forget Jim Crow laws, forget Emmett Till, forget Martin Luther King Jr., forget Medgar Evers, forget Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner, and forget the four little girls who were murdered in Birmingham. It is implied that these people and events have no bearing on the recent murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. For someone like me, it is almost like being asked to drop down through a rabbit hole into some strange world-a world where up is down and out is in and nothing is what it seems. We are encouraged to pretend. Pretend there is no history of racism. Pretend that scholars of history, scholars of law and economics have not systematically delineated racism and current injustices in our judicial systems. Pretend that after almost sixty years of addressing racism, I do not see racism in individuals, social and political groups, churches and institutions. Pretend that the motions of justice in Sanford for the past few weeks was not an almost meaningless exercise, except that it held up personal and institutional racism at work for all to see. Pretend that my soul does not ache. No, I cannot do that. A frequent image for me is Sankofa, the mythical bird of African folklore, who moves forward, carrying the egg of hope, but also looking back, forever cognizant of the connections of past, present and future.

My niece’s dad says the only words she uttered before kissing him goodnight and going off to bed were, “Now I’m going to have a second major in college-it will be law.” She gets it and she still believes in the system-and she still has hope for change.

The young adults at General Convention 2012 get it. I heard their voices in hearings. I saw them exchanging ideas sitting in hallways between sessions. I felt their arms around me during emotional moments at the convention. They were passionate and they were productive participants in our church’s highest governing body. They have the eyes, ears, minds, and hearts that are required to make decisions for the good of all of Christ’s people.

Bishop Sauls gets it and he invites us all to reflect on several basic questions. He asks, What have we learned and what are we going to do about it? I hope we will respond to these questions as a church. Specifically, I hope that we will mirror, through our budgeting, policymaking and practice, the many general convention resolutions that continually remind us, individually and collectively, to “See the Face of God” in each other. I hope that we will restore and refresh the work of anti-racism in our congregations, dioceses, provinces, committees, councils, and governing bodies.

I want the voices calling for calmness and silence to know without a doubt that it is impossible for me, and many like me but not all, to be dispassionate as we try to work through what has just been played out before us, our children, and the world. It is impossible for me to be calm and unemotional when speaking of a system that does not consider it a crime that Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. The Sankofa reminds me to remember.

To view the original article and comments, click here.

Anita George is a veteran of the civil rights movement, a deputy of the Diocese of Mississippi and member of Executive Council and is the past-chair of its Anti-Racism Committee.




Related Posts

Keep on reading

Skip to content