Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Racism and Zimmerman-Martin Verdict

With the verdict of the State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman in, the nation reacts. Maybe we shouldn’t say “the nation.” Maybe we should say groups of people. The problem is when we start identifying those groups. The groups are not divided by principle. They aren’t divided by patriotism. They aren’t even divided by purpose. They are divided by race.

Isn’t it interesting how the media picks and choses what to flood our senses with? There are literally hundreds of shootings in this country. There are literally hundreds of trials across this great country where the State is charging someone with murder. In fact, 37 days after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida, Cordell Jude shot and killed Daniel Adkins in Arizona in what has been called the "Reverse Trayvon Martin Case." But, other than a brief CNN clip and a Yahoo News blurb no major media publicized the case. Yet, the problem is not just the media. In my opinion, and I believe the evidence is in the results, the media is only helping identify the problem. Yes, in some ways they may be fueling the fire but the reality is if there wasn’t a fire there then fueling it wouldn’t produce anything. With that said, I do believe the media has a responsibility in what, how, when, where, and why they do what they do. In my opinion, the media has failed miserably in being responsible. In reality, the purpose of the news media has changed in my lifetime from reporting the news to selling the news. When money is the bottom line we need to remember, “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.” (1 Tim 6:10)

No matter how many times people say it’s not about race, the evidence in the results proves the opposite. The problem is that this great country is still divided along racial and ethnical lines. Prejudices are hard, if not impossible, to put to death. The problem is not the color of ones skin being used to describe and identify. If you are called upon to give identifying physical traits of an individual you would use gender, skin color, size, weight, and any other physical characteristic (tattoos, color of hair, scares, etc.). The problem is when someone is being treated or expected to be treated a certain way BECAUSE of the color of one’s skin.

There are all kinds of physical characteristics that carry prejudices. Some are not as major as others but all are pre-judgments about someone because of a physical characteristic. For instance, people with red hair have short tempers; females with blonde hair are dingbats; there is something wrong with people that get tattoos; there are literally thousands of pre-judgments that we make about people when we see them. But that is not the same thing as being racist. Racism is about prejudices, discrimination, inequality, superiority, bigotry and oppression.

How difficult is it in general to cross the rift between White and Black in America? Well, in the four years of the Civil War (1861-1865) it is estimated that at least 620,000 people died; roughly 360,222 Union forces (fighting to abolish slavery) and 258,000 Confederate forces (fighting to keep slavery). (I know that is a simplified reason for the War.) Included in the figure are the estimated 40,000 African-Americans who lost their lives in the War. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed by Congress and signed by the President it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1883, which ruled that Blacks were “beings of an inferior order”, and could never become citizens of USA. (Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). It took 100 tumultuous years after the Civil War before The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would make any real change for the African-American.
Somehow through all these human-rights issues it has been perceived that the majority is always prejudice toward the minority. And that perception may very well be based upon the facts of human history. When one world power conquers another, the people of that land become subservient to their captors, if not slaves of their captors. That’s the way of the world. That’s the way of war. It happened to Israel along with other nations under the Egyptian Empire and the Roman Empire. It happened under Mohammad and Islam in the Middle East and it happened to the Native Indians and Spaniards in North America under the United States of America. Now, in parts of this great country where the Hispanics out number the Anglo there are accusations of perceived prejudices against the Anglo. It seems to be the way of humanity. I think we can accurately predict that if Blacks were the majority and Whites the minority that racism would not vanish. I would just switch races.

There is only one Kingdom on earth where racial/ethnical prejudice is not supposed to be. That is the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, through the failure of sinful men, of which we all are, the church has not always upheld the orders of her King: “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” (Rom 10:12) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Since the “love of Christ controls us” we are to “recognize no one according to the flesh.” (2 Cor 5:14-16) In the Kingdom of Christ we are not to let the color of someone’s skin be a prejudgment. As the children’s song declares the truth:
“Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and Yellow, Black and White,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
And we might add in there Brown and every color of every people on the face of the earth.

I don’t believe the church is to be color-blind, I believe we are to be color-celebrating. In the Family of God I have brothers and sisters who are White, Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, and every other color of people on earth who have recognized Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We are completely and totally equal in every way. I chose, in Christ, to celebrate the distinctiveness of God’s saving grace and the sweet fellowship of unity found in Christ Jesus. There are not only color differences but also cultural differences from which we can learn and celebrate. Not only am I transformed to see this reality in the church but also I am transformed to see this reality outside the church. I am not to be a respecter of people. If all who name the name of Jesus as Lord and Savior would submit to their King in this reality there would be a significant change in racism worldwide.

I am a White male who grew up at a time and in a place where my physical characteristics of race were the majority. I admit and confess that I do not know how it feels or what it means to be discriminated against simply because of my race or ethnicity. I married a Mexican who grew up as a minority in our town and experienced prejudicial discrimination simply because of her ethnicity. I am incapable of empathizing with what she felt because I have not experienced it. We have three children, twin girls and one boy (all grown now). Our son looks much more Mexican than his palely White sisters. He has suffered at the hands of those who are prejudice simply because of his skin color. I cannot really empathize with how he feels when derogatory remarks are made toward him because he is Mexican. My own grandmothers, though they always treated my wife and children with unconditional love and acceptance, warned me before I married that my children would be half-breeds. Even with that, I, as an Anglo, do not understand the disparaging treatment of prejudices because it was not my half of the breeding that was considered a negative.

All of that is to say, I don’t believe anyone can fully understand how it feels to be racially/ethnically discriminated against unless they have lived in a society where they are the minority and, as a minority, have suffered racial/ethnical discrimination. It is one thing to experience pockets of racial discrimination but it is totally different when racial discrimination is a societal distinctive. By that I mean, a White person may grow up in a Black neighborhood and experience racial discrimination in that pocket of society. But that is not the same thing as the racial discrimination toward Blacks that can be found, in general, in the social structure of America, especially in the South.

With that being said there are a few things that I have observed with the Zimmerman-Martin trial and subsequent reactions. They are my opinion and, as with all of us, I can only view things through the lens of my own experiences and that can affect the way I see something. I am not saying my observations are the ONLY accurate conclusion. Nor am I saying that they are absolutely correct. Maybe, putting this out there will help in the dialogue and help in bringing some healing to racial/ethnical prejudices in America. Of course, if it is a true dialogue then there are at least two things that must happen. One, all must be willing to take ownership of our feelings/thoughts and express them appropriately. Two, all must be willing to listen and hear all in the conversation.

The media has sensationalized this case based on race because that is what sells. NBC edited the Zimmerman’s call to the non-emergency number of Sanford police department so as to highlight race. They made it sound like Zimmerman was conjecturing on race without being asked when, in fact, the dispatcher asked him to identify the race of Martin. The mainstream media continues to sensationalize the case with the way they frame questions and interviews around race. I watch a lot of news. Fox News has a slant that is more consistent with my political point of view. So, I probably watch Fox News 70% of the time. Yet, I want to be well rounded and hear the views of others that are coming from a different perspective, so I watch CNN probably 20% of the time, MSNBC maybe 10% of the time, and the big three (ABC, CBS, NBC) about 10% of the time. Although I’ve learned a lot from these other news sources, it appears to me that the more liberal the media outlet the more they focus on a racial conspiracy. Does that mean the liberal media is more against racism and are just emphasizing the injustice toward Blacks or are they exploiting the Blacks by selling the sensational? Are they reporting the extent of the racial divide or are they encouraging more racial divide? To me, it’s not that they are just reporting on racial/ethnical prejudice but that they are inciting the division. Also, it seems to me that the media is doing nothing to help bring healing to the racial divide.

The groups trying to capitalize off of the media coverage are not just racially motivated. There is the group who is seeking to overthrow the Stand Your Ground law. There are also people who are trying to use this as a reason for Gun Control. Of course, the counterparts of these groups are arguing their side as well. It is my opinion that this case has little to do with either one of these issues. In my opinion we have already submitted too many of our freedoms in the environment of a false peace. It is like the Scriptures indicate that even in the name of God there are those who proclaim “peace, peace, But there is no peace.” (Jer 6:14) Without a Stand Your Ground law and the Second Amendment we are reduced to the mercy of the merciless. Are we to huddle in our houses defenselessly awaiting the criminal? Are we to retreat from every confrontation? Does it not already seem that our laws are more for the criminal than they are the victims? Even after they are convicted the criminals still have significant rights under the law. Is this really about a law or about guns? I don’t think so. Those who believe Zimmerman probably think the law did exactly what it was intended to do. If he had not had the right to carry a gun and defend himself, he likely would have been beaten, maimed, and possibly killed. Those who don’t believe Zimmerman, say if he hadn’t been allowed to have a gun he couldn’t have killed Martin. And if there was no Stand Your Ground law Zimmerman would be charged with murder 2 or, at least, manslaughter because he didn’t retreat when he had a chance. So, is the issue the law or the gun? NO! The issue is whether you believe the system worked or failed. Was Zimmerman innocent until proven guilty? Or, was he judged by the media as guilty because of the color of his skin and Martin’s skin? Is not finding him guilty BECAUSE of the color of skin also a racial/ethnical prejudice?

Let’s play “what if”—what if Martin really did beat down Zimmerman and bashed his head into the sidewalk? Is it that hard to believe that a 17-year-old male (looks more like 20), who is 5’ 11” tall and 158 lbs. could beat down a 28-year-old, 5’ 7” tall and 185 lbs. young man? Maybe even asking the question that way shows a bias. Okay, what if Zimmerman instigated and started the fight. Zimmerman was roughly 11 years older, basically 30 pounds heavier, even though he was 4” shorter. Is it hard to believe that a 28-year-old male neighborhood watch coordinator in a neighborhood that has been hit hard with robberies, is overly suspicious, easily angered, and highly confrontational toward anyone off the pathway and in the yard of an area that is known for robberies, and someone he suspects is “up to no good” because “it's raining and he's just walking around, looking about?” Neither scenario is hard to believe. What is hard to reconcile is what that characteristic of Zimmerman would sound like and how that type of characteristic might behave in that scenario and what the facts point to. If that painted an accurate picture Zimmerman I’m surprised he didn’t stop and confront Martin when he first saw him. I’m surprised by the tone and quality of his voice. His voice is soft, a little high-pitched, calm, and almost a little feminine. There is one point on the call, when Zimmerman says that Martin is “coming to check me out” and he sees something in Martin’s hand. That Zimmerman sounds a little frightened even. He wanted the police to hurry. That doesn’t sound like someone that is out looking for a Black kid to kill.

The “what if” game is a game that never ends. What if Zimmerman never got out of his truck? What if Martin had walked straight home instead of loitering? What if Zimmerman hadn’t carried a gun? What if Martin wasn’t wearing a hoodie? What if Zimmerman had been Black and Martin White? What if…what if…what if… The “what if” game gets us nowhere!

Interestingly, all the attorneys in the trial, except for the attorney representing the Martin family, were White. Are there no qualified attorneys in Florida that are Black or Brown? All the jurors, save the one dark Hispanic woman, were White women. It was an all women jury! It seems to me that the more they tried to make it not about race the more they did things that were potentially racially explosive. I think the question “Do you think if those jurors would have been six Black women there would have been a different verdict?” is a legitimate question. It is also a question that shows just how suspicious we are toward racial divisions. Did five White women make a decision based on the facts presented or the color of Martin’s skin? Would five Black women make a decision based on facts or the color of skin? If, in any situation, a decision is made based exclusively on the color of someone’s skin, can we not agree that there is racial/ethnical prejudice? Can we not also agree that not every decision made is about racial/ethnical prejudice even when there are different races involved?

The prosecution seemed to base their final argument not on facts but on knowing “what was in the heart of Zimmerman.” This is really an impossibility to know. There are only two people who can know a person’s heart, the person and God. And no one really knows his or her own heart in every matter. We can easily deceive ourselves. It is true that Zimmerman obviously had problems in 2005 with drinking, violence, and relationships. He was arrested for shoving an officer and he also had a restraining order filed and granted against him by his ex-fiancée, against whom he also filed and received a retraining order. In 2006 he received a speeding ticket. Yet, in this case, though the State desperately tried to, they could not find any factual evidence to prove Zimmerman guilty. The Law either has facts and evidences that will reasonably convict or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t bring a charge against someone. The process of the arrest and the lack of evidence presented could easily lead one to think that the State of Florida may have felt pressured, based on the publicity of the case, to bring Zimmerman to trial.

After the trial, all the demanding for justice is not just. Was it an “unnecessary killing” as Eric Holder proclaims? Sure it was. Aren’t most killings unnecessary? What could have changed? In order of prevention: The first thing, from the testimony, was that if Martin had not been loitering around a house there was a good chance that Zimmerman would not have suspected him. Secondly, after Zimmerman stopped at the clubhouse and called the police’s non-emergency phone number, if Martin would have walked past Zimmerman’s truck and made a beeline for his father house there would have been no confrontation. Thirdly, if Martin was scared because a “creepy ass cracker” was following him, he could have called the police. Fourth, if Zimmerman had not got out of his truck, most likely there would not have even been a conversation between the two. (One juror has said Zimmerman “shouldn’t have gotten out of that car.”) Yet, getting out of that car was not against the law. Fifth, if Zimmerman had retreated to his truck when encouraged to by the dispatcher there possibly would have not been a confrontation. Still, even confronting someone in a neighborhood watch environment is not against the law. Was either one breaking the law? No. At least, not up to the point of violence. Were both exercising poor judgment? Maybe. But poor judgment isn’t against the law. The reality is that the only one who knows what happened that night is Zimmerman. Did Martin throw the first punch? Was Martin accosted first by Zimmerman? We may never know or we may already know. The jurors heard the evidence and believed the evidence pointed toward Zimmerman’s account. Under our justice system we must endure this as the truth. Our system may not be perfect but it has proven to be the best system for justice probably 99% of the time. Occasionally, because humans fail sometimes, our system convicts innocent people and frees guilty people. But regardless, “innocent until proven guilty” is the best system we have. And in this case Zimmerman was not proven guilty.

Was Martin profiled? Maybe. Is profiling the same thing as racial/ethnical prejudices? Absolutely not! It can be but it is not necessarily so. Is it not true that the gated neighborhood had recently had a rash of burglaries and potential violent encounters with young adult Black males in the past 15 months? Is it not reasonable at that point to profile an older teen Black male who is inside the gated community? Profiling at that point is not necessarily racial/ethnical prejudices. It could be simply motivated by racial/ethnical description. When the EMT examined Martin he had no ID on him. They reported he looked approximately 20 years old. He may not have looked like the twelve-year-old boy pictured by the media. I contend that in this case profiling is not synonymous with prejudice. The FBI, Stanford Police Department, and the Jurors came to the same conclusion after investigating all the evidence. They concluded that Zimmerman was not motivated by racial/ethnical prejudices. I think a legitimate question is “If Martin had had on clothing that is not associates with a culture that is problematic would he had been profiled?” In my mind, if I see someone on a dark street that is dressed and looks like trouble, I am going to profile him or her regardless of the color of his or her skin. Maybe part of the conversation needs to be the reality that the way you dress is the way you will be judged. If a “skin head” with a swastika tattoo walks down the street is he not going to be judged by his appearance? If Martin had been wearing a suite and carrying a brief case would Zimmerman had profiled him? Probably not even though the fact that he was a Black would have been more obvious. Could it be that appearance really does matter in society? I’m old enough to remember when wearing a pair jeans in the late 1950s through the early 1970s was prejudged in conjunction with James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” Also, when males with long hair were pre-judged as a hippy, drug user, rebellious, etc.

It appears to me, agreeably, someone who does not have the experience of being racially discriminated against, that there are people in the Black community who have to continue racial division in order to continue their identity and maybe their income. People like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson seem to me to be in this camp. It is my opinion that they are not helping to bring healing to racial division but encouraging it. Their inflammatory rhetoric and political demands seems to be more harmful than helpful. There have been numerous Black leaders on the news including Eric Holder, US Attorney General and the former Mayor of New Orleans, Marc Morial, indicating that the jurors were wrong in their verdict. That what Zimmerman did was illegal. That he was wrong in profiling Martin. That Martin was just an innocent teenager murdered. Murdered because he was Black and Zimmerman was found Not Guilty because he was White-Hispanic. They said that because of the verdict they have had to have talks with their sons about behavior, profiling, and what to do in similar situations. Really! I have had that talk with my son, too.

Along with that conversation comes the explanation of why someone may be profiled. Not that it is fair but that there might be reasonable thought behind profiling. In the conversation with my son I included how he dressed and reacted to other people who are prejudice toward him will help determine the outcome. The prison system is over populated, with male Latinos and Blacks by far the prison majority. Is the legal system prejudice toward Browns and Blacks? I don’t know. Some studies show a disparity in arrest and charges of Browns and Blacks vs. Whites. Although, some studies show that Blacks and Browns are more likely to be arrested and charged there are others that report that Browns and Blacks are more likely to find leniency. There is also data to support that because there have been more research published involving Blacks in the legal system it can be over represented in the conclusion. (Do Race and Ethnicity Matter in Prosecution?) Undoubtedly, there are multiple studies of certain sectors of the country (i.e. NYC) where minorities are more likely to be targeted by law enforcement than Whites. (Crime, perceptions of crime and perceptions of crime-fighters) Yet, are there really enough facts to point toward a countrywide conspiracy toward Blacks and Browns? It’s hard to prove either way with statistics because statistics can be manipulated to say whatever is wanted. The one thing that all the statistics seem to point to is that minorities are more likely, per-capita, to commit violent crime. Some explain that by the difference in economics in the minority community. They say that minorities are poorer. Yet, is that a cause of the crime or is that the results of the crime? Also, if there is a societal conspiracy to keep minorities poor how do we reconcile that many minorities are some of the wealthiest people in America? As an example look at the Black entertainment industry: Bill Cosby, Opra Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Whitney Houston, Will Smith, James Earl Jones, and the list of film, television, and music industry stars goes on and on. Add on to that list minorities playing in Professional Sports.

Some minorities point to a discrimination in the education system that prevents them from being able to achieve a better economic life for their families and communities. But it is not clear whether the potential discrimination is because of a prejudicial education system or because of the community culture created by minorities. In high schools where African-American and Hispanics are the majority students report a higher percentage of being threatened or injured by a weapon than in Anglo or Native American populated schools. Though there was, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, factual discrimination in the public school system, since then there have been significant improvements in squelching that discrimination. In postsecondary education Blacks receive the majority of financial aid (92%) and the average largest amount of aid given. The research would indicate that in the past 35 years discrimination in the educational system has made great strides in assuring equality. (Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups) Yet, if the educational system points to anything in the Zimmerman-Martin case it identifies a troubled youth who was on his third expulsion from high school.

Another thing that brought this case undue publicity is President Obama giving public commentary on it. In my opinion it is beneath the position of the President to speak publicly about any particular case. Especially, when it is being publicized in a racial format. Also, I don’t think it helps when the Attorney General of the United States dedicates his entire speech to the NAACP questioning and destroying the faith in our justice system by undermining the process that had just been completed in the Zimmerman-Martin trial. In my opinion, when the highest official and other high officials in the US Government, all whom are Black, do not accept the results of our justice system they undermine the entire Republic for which the system identifies. Could it be that they want to politicize this case for their own political agenda? (i.e. Anti-Stand Your Ground law and Gun Control)

When listening to the prosecutions key witness, Rachel Jeantel, it reminded me of conversations I have had with White people who claim not to be racially/ethnically prejudice yet are disparaging toward people who are not White. Statements such as “you know how Mexicans are” or “Black people are just that way” when speaking negative about someone. Or maybe they see nothing wrong with describing Black people as Niger, Brown people as Spics, White people as Crackers or Asian people as Chinks. Yet, with Jeantel, we see that racial/ethnical prejudice is as much a part of the Black culture as it is the White. In what world is “creepy ass cracker” not a racial slur? Ms. Jeantel denied that it has racial connotations. Would not it have been seen as racial/ethnical prejudice if Zimmerman had said something derogatory about Martin in identifying his skin color? Maybe what he said shows that Martin could have been more racially motivated than Zimmerman. Isn’t it true that prejudices have no boundaries? They are not restricted just to the majority. Remember, the problem is when someone is being treated or expected to be treated a certain way BECAUSE of the color of their skin. Do not all racial/ethnical groups do this? Is it not true that there are Blacks that are racist? As well as Hispanics and Asians? I mean, it’s not just a White syndrome. It is a human problem.

If racism in America has not been resolved in over 150 years since the Civil War we are safe to assume it is not going to be solved anytime soon. There is no doubt that the racial divide between White and Black in America continues to find strength in the past reality of slavery and the over 100 years of oppression of the Blacks once slavery was abolished. It is understood that slavery and racial oppression was primarily in the Southern States but not limited to the South. There is no one alive today who was a slave owner or a slave. So, there are no firsthand experiencers of that era of our history. The point is, there is no one to hold responsible and there need be no one requiring retribution. It is history. If we learn from it we have a good chance not to repeat it. Now as far as the oppression of Blacks by Whites…. maybe we shouldn’t be so stereotypical. Were there not well over 300,000 Whites in the Civil War that literally gave their lives in order to provide freedom for Blacks? There have been remnants of Whites from the founding of America who have advocated equality in civil-rights for all colors of people. Still, it is hard for me to reconcile reasons for 100 years of racial oppression of the Black. What took White people so long to establish an equality of race? Why did it take such turmoil in the 1960s to initiate change in society?  Of course, I was born at the end of those 100 years and cannot contemplate the cultural milieu of America from 1865 to 1965. Still, have there not been astronomical advances in establishing an equality of race in America, especially since 1964? I mean, in 2008 America elected a Black man as the President of the United States of America. With Black making up roughly 13% of the population was it not the non-Black vote that put a Black man in the Oval Office?

I can only speak for myself and from my own perspective. I do not consider myself being racially/ethnically prejudice. Yet, I realize that self-awareness continues to come with an open mind and heart. Maybe we can all get to the place were we can willingly set down and have an honest dialogue. I must say that this case has truly highlighted the extent of the racial divide in America. I call on my fellow Whites to really try to understand, to listen and hear what the hearts of the African-American community, Hispanic community, Asian community, etc are saying. Realize that 1964 wasn’t that long ago. Can we not sympathize with minorities, especially Blacks, as to how they feel living in a society, in general, that has oppressed them? To try to understand how it must feel to be prejudicially profiled just because of skin color. Why minorities are probably more sensitive to racism than Whites. To learn from minorities what might be done to help. I call upon on the minorities to listen and hear the whole of the White community. I ask them to be honest about their own community’s cultural problems and take ownership for those things. To stop blaming the Whites for your problems and expecting to be venerated simply for being a minority. Sure there are plenty of Whites that are racially/ethnically prejudice. Some will never accept that the minority has equality with White. There are always going to be people like this. It is hard to ignore them but maybe we can reasonably and rationally marginalize those who will always be racist by not being baited into a reaction.

The solution to racism is don’t be a racist. Don’t prejudge someone because of the color of his or her skin. Don’t assume all Whites are racist. Don’t assume all Blacks are racist. (Because racism is just as alive and well in the Black community as it is in the White community.) In fact, the Bible has a very simple solution to the problem of racism.

      “In everything, therefore,
treat people the same way
you want them to treat you.”
(Mt 7:12)

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