Episcopalians from around the church are responding to George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the murder of Trayvon Martin.
Bishop Greg Brewer, in whose Central Florida diocese the shooting took place, wrote a personal essay for Ed Stetzer’s blog on the Christianity Today website.
The issue is justice, not merely race. George Zimmerman is in my region as well. I care about him and his family. If the situation were reversed, I would have done the exact same thing for him.
Christians should see what can be gleaned from tragedies such as this, particularly when issues like justice and fairness are concerned. While the incident was horrible, there is much we can learn from it.
As followers of Christ, we need a deep understanding that in God’s eyes everybody matters—regardless of race, age, education or economics. The compassion that God has for the whole world should be extended through Christians to people around us, not just those we like, or who are like us.
Tweets by the Rt. Rev. Chris Epting, assisting bishop in the Diocese of Chicago and Cafe news blogger the Rev. Ann Fontaine were featured in a CNN story by Daniel Burke about reaction to the verdict on Twitter.
Bishop Epting tweeted: Yet, there is One who will judge justly.
The Rev. Fontaine, noting that the verdict was announced on the day before the lectionary readings included the parable of the Good Samaritan tweeted ironically: @PonyPriestess @episcopalcafe @sullivanamy lesson from Zimmerman trial – just shoot the stranger –
Jelani Cobb has been covering the trial for The New Yorker. His dispatch on the verdictincludes this passage:
The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty. During his cross examination of Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, the defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked if she was avoiding the idea that her son had done something to cause his own death. During closing arguments, the defense informed the jury that Martin was armed because he weaponized a sidewalk and used it bludgeon to Zimmerman. During his post-verdict press conference, O’Mara said that, were his client black, he would never have been charged. At the defense’s table, and in the precincts far beyond it where donors have stepped forward to contribute funds to underwrite their efforts, there is a sense that George Zimmerman was the victim.
O’Mara’s statement echoed a criticism that began circulating long before Martin and Zimmerman encountered each other. Thousands of black boys die at the hands of other African Americans each year, but the black community, it holds, is concerned only when those deaths are caused by whites. It’s an appealing argument, and widespread, but simplistic and obtuse. It’s a belief most easily held when you’ve not witnessed peace rallies and makeshift memorials, when you’ve turned a blind eye to grassroots organizations like the Interrupters in Chicago, who are working valiantly to stem the tide of violence in that city. It is the thinking of people who’ve never wondered why African Americans disproportionately support strict gun-control legislation. The added quotient of outrage in cases like this one stems not from the belief that a white murderer is somehow worse than a black one but from the knowledge that race determines whether fear, history, and public sentiment offer that killer a usable alibi.
Writing for The Atlantic,Ta-Nahesi Coates says he thinks the jury got the verdict right, largely because Zimmerman was the only one alive to offer an account of what happened. However, he adds:
The idea that Zimmerman got out the car to check the street signs, was ambushed by 17-year old kid with no violent history who told him he “you’re going to die tonight” strikes me as very implausible. It strikes me as much more plausible that Martin was being followed by a strange person, that the following resulted in a confrontation, that Martin was getting the best of Zimmerman in the confrontation, and Zimmerman then shot him. But I didn’t see the confrontation. No one else really saw the confrontation. Except George Zimmerman. I’m not even clear that situation I outlined would result in conviction.
I think Andrew Cohen is right–trials don’t work as strict “moral surrogates.” Everything that is immoral is not illegal–nor should it be. I want to live in a society that presumes innocence. I want to live in that society even when I feel that a person should be punished.
Emily Bazelon of Slate writes that the verdict was determined by Florida’s odd laws:
In Florida, a person “who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked” has no duty to retreat. He or she has the right to “meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.” The jury could have faulted Zimmerman for starting the altercation with Martin and still believed him not guilty of murder, or even of manslaughter, which in Florida is a killing that has no legal justification. If the jury believed that once the physical fight began, Zimmerman reasonably feared he would suffer a grave bodily injury, then he gets off for self-defense.
Maybe that is the wrong rule. Maybe people like George Zimmerman should be held responsible for provoking the fight that they then fear they’ll lose. And maybe cuts to the back of the head and a bloody nose aren’t enough to show reasonable fear of grave bodily harm. After all, as Adam Weinstein points out, the lesson right now for Floridians is this: “in any altercation, however minor, the easiest way to avoid criminal liability is to kill the counterparty.” But you can see the box the jurors might have felt they were in. Even if they didn’t like George Zimmerman—even if they believed only part of what he told the police—they didn’t have a charge under Florida law that was a clear fit for what he did that night.