Voices: Justice For Trayvon

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When George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that it was God’s will that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, he was diving right into what most good conservative Christians in America think right now. Whatever makes them protected, safe, and secure, is worth it at the expense of the black and brown people they fear.

Their god is the god that wants to erase race, make everyone act “properly” and respect, as the president said, “a nation of laws”; laws that they made to crush those they consider inferior.

When the laws were never made for people who were considered, constitutionally, to be three-fifths of a person, I have to ask: Is this just? Is it right? Is God the old white male racist looking down from white heaven, ready to bless me if I just believe the white men like Rick Perry who say the Zimmerman case has nothing to do with race?

You already know the answer: No.
- Anthea Butler, Religion Dispatches

The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America. I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.
- Statement from President Barack Obama

The president left out one small detail. Well, several actually. For starters, one way to honor Trayvon would be to have an honest conversation about why his death happened. You can’t do that without mentioning the issue of race. Yet somehow the president managed to avoid mentioning it in the 166 words above. Just as he carefully avoided mentioning it when previously discussing this tragedy last year.

In May 2012 President Obama said, “My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” He was criticized by the usual suspects, among them then-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who called the comment “disgraceful.” Gingrich went on to say, “It is a tragedy this young man was shot,” later adding, “When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”

But the president actually didn’t turn it into a racial issue, even though he should have, because the tragedy is one rooted in race.
- Keli Goff, The Root

San Diego, CA. Image by Arturo R. García

I’ve read lots of articles, Facebook statuses and tweets today addressing how black people should talk to their sons following the Zimmerman verdict. Some have suggested that everything would be great if only black kids would stop sagging their pants, stop cursing, stop being “disrespectful” (whatever that requires) – to stop being those loose-limbed, arrogant, cocky, wonderful young men my daughter has befriended.

My good friend Issa Mas posted on Facebook that a friend of hers who lives in the South, the mother of a 17-year old black boy, worried that the solution was teaching our sons “how to behave like the slavery/Jim Crow eras. Stop when stalked. Cooperate, don’t talk back, keep eyes downcast, keep hands visible, apologize, carry ID, never ever state your right to do what you had the right to do.”

I categorically reject that we have to teach our sons to act like slaves to keep them safe. Besides, even when black men have done all of these things, they have been shot.
- Carolyn Edgar, CarolynEdgar.com

Nashville, TN. Image via Carwill Bjork-James.

The fact is the jury delivered a not guilty verdict. The TRUTH is justice has not been served. In these most challenging of times, we are called upon to act. We must move from outrage to action. It starts today with the NBA and YOU!

“Injustice anywhere,” as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “is a threat to justice everywhere.” We have work to do to achieve justice for Trayvon Martin. As social agitators, the members of the NBA are continuing the struggle for “equal justice under the law” for Trayvon Martin. At the forefront of this struggle are NBA members Daryl Parks (Past NBA President) and Ben Crump, of the Tallahassee, Florida law firm Parks & Crump, LLC, that are representing Trayvon’s family in advocating for “equal justice under the law.” We proudly stand with them.

We urge the Department of Justice to act. The Department can still address the violation of Trayvon’s most fundamental civil right – the right to life. Upon a thorough investigation of the matter, we expect the Department to vigorously pursue all appropriate claims.
- Statement from the National Bar Association

Philadelphia, PA. Image via KNTV-TV.

Appeals for calm in the wake of such a verdict raise the question of what calm there can possibly be in a place where such a verdict is possible. Parents of black boys are not likely to feel calm. Partners of black men are not likely to feel calm. Children with black fathers are not likely to feel calm. Those who now fear violent social disorder must ask themselves whose interests are served by a violent social order in which young black men can be thus slain and discarded.

But while the acquittal was shameful it was not a shock. It took more than six weeks after Martin’s death for Zimmerman to be arrested and only then after massive pressure both nationally and locally. Those who dismissed this as a political trial (a peculiar accusation in the summer of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden) should bear in mind that it was politics that made this case controversial.

Charging Zimmerman should have been a no-brainer. He was not initially charged because Florida has a “stand your ground” law whereby deadly force is permitted if the person “reasonably believes” it is necessary to protect their own life, the life of another or to prevent a forcible felony.

Since it was Zimmerman who stalked Martin, the question remains: what ground is a young black man entitled to and on what grounds may he defend himself? What version of events is there for that night in which Martin gets away with his life? Or is it open season on black boys after dark?
- Gary Younge, The Guardian

New York City. Image via Elizabeth Plank.

There’s fear that the verdict will embolden vigilantes, but that need not be the concern: history has already done that. You don’t have to recall specifics of everything that has transpired in Florida over the past two hundred years to recognize this. The details of Rosewood, the black town terrorized and burned to the ground in 1923, and of Groveland and the black men falsely accused of rape and murdered there in 1949, can remain obscure and retain sway over our present concerns. Names—like Claude Neal, lynched in 1934, and Harry and Harriette Moore, N.A.A.C.P. organizers in Mims County, killed by a firebomb in 1951—can be overlooked. What cannot be forgotten, however, is that there were no consequences for those actions.

Perhaps history does not repeat itself exactly, but it is certainly prone to extended paraphrases. Long before the jury announced its decision, many people had seen what the outcome would be, had known that it would be a strange echo of the words Zimmerman uttered that rainy night in central Florida: they always get away.
- Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker

Los Angeles, CA. Image via Jasmyne Cannick.