By Jacqueline J. Holness
For many people, birthdays are a time for celebration and reflection. I wonder if George Zimmerman, who turned 30 earlier this month, may have leaned toward the latter.
In July, Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder charges. The verdict shocked many, particularly black people, as it seems that no one will be punished for the senseless death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager.
From the time the Sanford, Florida incident became known countrywide, the circumstances of the case regenerated discussions of race, racial profiling, white privilege, and other associated issues in America. Although many may have thought discussions of race and racism were a thing of the past with the election of a black president, this case demonstrates in Technicolor that Americans are still grappling with racism.
I must admit I was deeply saddened by the verdict. No matter how masterful a case the defense presented, I still cannot understand how one person could pursue another after being told by authorities not to pursue, and ultimately to kill that person without legal consequences.
Hotbed of Controversy
Although many had not heard of Sanford, Florida before the Martin/Zimmerman case, the city has been a hotbed of racial controversy for decades. In The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2011), author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles the mass exodus of black Americans to the North to escape brutal racism. Here Wilkerson introduces readers to Harry T. Moore and George Starling. Moore, an NAACP leader in the ’30s and ’40s, and his wife, died after a bomb exploded under their home on Christmas Day 1951. The couple was taken to a hospital in Sanford for treatment, but due to a delay in getting the couple to the hospital and difficulty securing a black doctor to treat them, they died.
No one was held accountable for their deaths. Moore and his wife were “considered by some as the first casualties of the modern civil rights movement.” George Starling, a Moore recruit who staged protests demanding higher wages for citrus workers, fled Sanford for New York after being threatened with lynching.
An Opportunity for the Church
What happened to Moore, what nearly happened to Starling, and even what happened in the Martin/Zimmerman case in Sanford are all history now. I believe this recent case presents an opportunity for the church to examine itself to determine if we are harboring racist attitudes or even unwittingly promoting racism or racial bias.
After the verdict was announced, a white coworker, a Christian, asked what I thought about it. I expressed my disappointment and explained my feelings. While he thought the verdict was fair, he told me he understood where I was coming from. My coworker and his wife, who is also white, adopted an Hispanic baby. I told him that as a brown person, his daughter will experience life differently than he and his wife experience life, and it will color her opinions. I went on to say that is why people of differing races need to come together in the workplace, at home, and in the church, because it is only through exposure that we can understand one another.
Jesus continually brought together people of different races and backgrounds—from his dialogue with the woman at the well to the main character in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I was encouraged after watching a local reporter interview three ministers of a large, racially-diverse Atlanta church following the Martin/Zimmerman verdict. One of the ministers was Hispanic, one was white, and one was black. Each brought unique experiences to the conversation, but they all agreed about our bond through our faith.
My father, who is the minister of my church, has been hosting an annual racial reconciliation service around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for the last seven years. Typically he invites someone of a different race to speak to our black church about racial reconciliation. The service has promoted racial understanding and benevolence in our church.
I cannot pretend to know what George Zimmerman is thinking months after his exoneration; but I hope the church will use this unfortunate set of circumstances to continue to champion racial reconciliation.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service, an online, national news service for attorneys. Contact Jacqueline at afterthealtarcall.com.
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