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:
The rightness of that decision is more clear than ever. Violent crime rates have not climbed. The public is no less safe. And the pursuit of justice has been served, not undermined.
Our system of capital punishment was abolished because it was broken beyond repair, infected with racism and inherently arbitrary and prone to mistakes. There is no doubt we’re better off without the death penalty, both morally and fiscally. The first anniversary of the abolition of that barbaric practice in Illinois is a joyous, and yet somber, occasion, which gives us all the opportunity to reflect on the profound fact that we, as a sovereign state, no longer kill people to show that killing people is wrong.
The Florida Council of Churches released a statement today expressing deep condolences to the family of Trayvon Martin and calling upon local law enforcement to investigate the case swiftly and fairly.
On behalf of our churches, we wish to convey our deepest condolences to the family of Trayvon Martin. The promise of his young life in no way deserved to be ended by a gunshot within sight of his father’s front door on February 26, 2012. We pray for the family’s peace of mind in knowing of the love of God which surpasses death and for justice to be pursued in this tragic mishap so that it does not happen to another family anywhere in Florida.
Trayvon’s death was unwarranted. Florida should be a place where a person of any color can walk in a neighborhood without fear of violence or being presumed a suspicious threat. Florida should be a place where the use of deadly force is rare and uncommon. Florida should also be a place where the misuse of deadly force is not tolerated.
We call upon law enforcement in Sanford to pursue justice in this matter with deliberate effectiveness. The investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death should proceed swiftly without racial bias so that the matter is not continually tried in the media. The Martin family and the community at large need protection from vigilantism and assurance that Florida’s streets are open to all people without respect to the color of their skin. We call upon Sanford authorities to take actions that demonstrate both racial fairness and concern for the safety of the community.
The statement is signed by prominent Florida leaders in the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian (USA), AMEZ, and UCC churches among others.