Demonstrators, activists and community leaders gathered yesterday in Washington, DC outside the offices of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) a secretive group of right-wing lobbyists which is responsible for pushing the “stand your ground” laws that have come under scrutiny since Trayvon Martin’s tragic death at the hand of a vigilante gunman.
Progressive faith leaders, including FPL’s own Rev. Jennifer Butler and Rev. Michael Livingston, Director of the National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative, joined the protest to call attention to the moral dimension of the debate over these right-wing laws and Trayvon’s senseless killing:
Standing in solidarity with thousands of young people from around the country, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) donned a hoodie on the House floor today in honor of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and called attention to the dangerous consequences of racial profiling and lax gun regulations.
Rep. Rush, whose own son “was shot down in the streets”, said the real “hoodlums in this nation” are not young people, but those “who tread on our laws wearing official or quasi-official clothes.”
Before being escorted off the House floor for violating dress code rules, Rep. Rush called for an end to racial profiling and said that Luke 4:18 teaches us that “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”
In an interview with The Washington Post shortly following Rep. Rush’s protest, Trayvon Martin’s parents commended him for bringing attention to their case and questioned why Rep. Rush was not permitted to further address racial profiling on the House floor.
Adding to the growing number of faith leaders expressing outrage at the killing of Trayvon Martin, the leaders of the National Council of Churches have said they are “profoundly disturbed” by the incident. As media attention and public pressure mounts, the NCC leaders are praying that a “thorough investigation of the incident will be a ‘first step toward discarding historic structural patterns that have caused us to dehumanize one another, and that have placed millions of our sisters and brothers, persons of color, at risk in our society — in their homes, their neighborhoods and in public places.’”
Noting the pernicious role of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law,” the NCC went on to say:
In this case, the police have said Florida law makes it unnecessary for police to investigate the shooting of Trayvon, resulting in unprecedented demonstrations of anger in the U.S. and around the world. Clearly, this tragedy has been compounded by unexamined stereotypes on both sides, and especially by the systemic racism that is pervasive throughout the very fabric of our society infecting our institutions and individuals alike.
Former Orlando Sentinel religion reporter Mark Pinsky had a column on CNN’s Belief Blog last week wrestling with an important question: “Where’s white church outrage over Trayvon Martin?”
Although the Florida Council of Churches, which includes many white clergy among its leadership, released a letter condemning the killing and calling for justice, and last night’s rally led by Rev. Al Sharpton in Sanford, FL, was reportedly a very multiracial event, there’s no denying that black clergy have not yet had strong public support from white clergy in the effort to bring Trayvon’s killer George Zimmerman to justice.
Few if any white clergy have spoken up to demand that the killing be fully investigated. None can be seen standing by the African-American preachers calling for justice, or marching with Martin’s family members. Why?
As someone who covered this area’s faith community for 15 years, I don’t think the answer is racism as much as it is cultural callousness. Week in and week out, the violent deaths and disappearances of poor, black and brown people – especially immigrants – merit a one- or two-paragraph story in The Orlando Sentinel’s (my old newspaper’s) police blotter. So when a middle-class black teen is gunned down, the reaction tends to be a shrug of the shoulders.
In other words, different racial groups’ radically divergent experiences with violent crime and the justice system creates insularity in the white community that inhibits true empathy. I don’t mean to overgeneralize here. There are certainly other explanations for various individual faith leaders. For instance, yesterday I spoke to an Orlando-area white pastor who is concerned and outraged but has been traveling abroad for all month. And I can’t act holier than thou. There have been 104 murders in DC over the last 12 months, and I don’t know any of the victims’ names, and all I really remember is that the victims are disproportionately young black men gunned down in Wards 5, 7 and 8.
But I’ve thought a lot about Trayvon’s death. What was his last thought? How bad was the pain? Could he feel God by his side as his life faded away? Why on earth is his killer walking free? I hope those of us – clergy and laypeople alike – who in the past haven’t noticed tragedies like Trayvon’s will be changed by this miscarriage of justice. We won’t solve the racism of our criminal justice system and our culture until we realize that it’s everyone’s problem.
On Roland Martin Reports, FPL Executive Director Jennifer Butler discussed the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin, the need for white religious leaders to join African-American clergy in speaking out on the case, and the problems with “Kill at Will” gun laws like the one in Florida: