Unlike seemingly everyone on the planet, I didn’t follow the details of the George Zimmerman trial at all while it was going on. Other than a vague awareness of the fact that the trial was taking place, I just wasn’t paying attention. Maybe I should have been, but the spin and the anger and the speculation turned me off to the whole ordeal. As with other high-profile trials in the last few years, I decided to wait until the evidence had all been presented and a verdict reached before going back to review the case and form my own opinion.
I had not planned to write anything about the case, since there’s already been so much said, but considering I’ve already posted some other responses to the H&L Facebook page, I suppose I’ve “entered the fray” after all. So here are a few reflections on a trial that has captured the passions of the nation.
The Shooting Was a Tragedy
While it seems this ought to be the one thing everyone could agree on, that’s apparently not the case. I’ve seen several variations of “he had it coming” on social and national media, and that’s a real shame. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that a young man who was made in the image of God is dead.
“Stand Your Ground” Is a Good Law
While it is certainly debatable whether or not this law is applicable in the Zimmerman/Martin case (it was not part of the defense’s case), it’s the right law. People have a fundamental human right to defend themselves and others from a determined attacker. I am thankful to live in a state that recognizes that right. I certainly hope that I will never be in a situation that would require me to defend myself or my family, but you better believe that if we ever were in real danger, the choice between my kids and the bad guy would be an easy one.
Race Is Still An Issue
Another observation that ought to be filed under “obvious”, but it’s worth acknowledging. Maybe Zimmerman’s initial actions were racially motivated. Maybe they weren’t. Regardless, this trial has sparked a national discussion on racial profiling, something that really exists no matter how much some might like to deny it.
Twenty years before George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin, Michael W. Smith wrote these words in a song on one of the favorite albums of my childhood:
Somebody’s just assuming
He’s up to nothing good
‘Cause he’s not like the others
There goes the neighborhood
What kind of world are we living in
We judge a man by the tone of his skin
It’s one thing to say (particularly as a WASP) that Smith was right and that we should all be “Color Blind”. It’s another thing entirely to ignore the fact that, while we’ve certainly made much progress, racism is still alive and unwell in this country. And I’m not giving minorities a pass here. Racism goes both ways.
But I can’t know what it’s like to be a black person in America. When our President says that most African-Americans know what it’s like to be followed just because they are black, I’m inclined to believe him. And for those who are disinclined to believe anything our President says, here’s conservative Christian Trip Lee saying the same thing. I have no frame of reference for beginning to understand how that feels, but when I see things like this video, contrived as it might be, it just makes me angry:
We still have a lot of hard conversations ahead of us in this country to work toward racial reconciliation. We need to be able to have those conversations with hearts and minds open. We need to remember that the only solution to the root of racial tensions is the gospel.
There Are Many Definitions of the Word “Fact”
I am convinced that one of the main reasons people are so divided over this case has to do with where they get their news. It’s so hard to find any semblance of objectivity in today’s news outlets! We expect subjectivity in editorial content, but it all too often appears in reports of so-called “facts” as well.
For example, compare the following two articles:
Both of these articles claim to report the facts. One is from a left-leaning MSM outlet, the other is a right-wing blog. Both resort to a little editorializing, even in the selection of which facts get reported, which can paint a very different picture of a man.
CNN includes details about George Zimmerman’s wife being arrested and charged with perjury for falsifying financial reports during bail bond proceedings. American Thinker includes details about prior crime, and the reasons Zimmerman joined the neighborhood watch in the first place. CNN says that Zimmerman followed Martin “against the advice of the 911 dispatcher,” though it is unclear exactly what happened at that moment, without any eyewitnesses. American Thinker invites readers to “do the math” to determine what Martin must have been doing during times unaccounted for, again without eyewitnesses to confirm whatever suspicions the reader may adduce.
In all my reading this week, the best summary of the case I’ve encountered came from a surprising source, Slate.com’s William Saletan. His article “You Are Not Trayvon Martin” is definitely worth a read. Saletan originally intended to write an article accusing Zimmerman of racial profiling and vigilantism, but after carefully reviewing the details of the case, he realized he “had been wrong about many things.”
He concludes that Martin and Zimmerman both made mistakes that night that led to the tragic shooting, and I think he’s right. I also agree with him that…
George Zimmerman Was a Reckless Fool
Zimmerman had every reason to be suspicious of strangers in his neighborhood after a spat of crimes, but I believe his suspicions got the better of him. Neighborhood watch programs can be great tools for reducing crime, and it is admirable to be concerned for the safety of your neighbors, as Zimmerman was. But to follow and report on the movements of a suspicious person—particularly one who has not been observed in the commission of any crime—goes beyond the role of a neighborhood watch member, even a block captain.
Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but had Zimmerman merely phoned the police and continued on his way home—perhaps even calling some of his neighbors to warn them to also keep an eye open—the fatal encounter would never have happened. I don’t think he was out looking for a fight,but though he is not the one who initiated the physical confrontation, his actions did result in an unnecessary death. That said…
The Jury Reached the Right Verdict
Foolishness is not illegal. Once Trayvon Martin started beating him up, Zimmerman was within his legal rights to defend himself, with lethal force if necessary (which it very well may have been). But there was no evidence to find beyond a reasonable doubt that his intent was to harm Martin or to provoke him into a confrontation. In fact, I think there was strong evidence to support Zimmerman’s account of the events of that night. Once Martin began assaulting him, Zimmerman was left with few options. But he was only in that position as the result of poor choices made by both men. Again, as Saletan says, don’t “confuse acquittal with vindication.”
So Where Do We Go From Here?
Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know that efforts to politicize this event one way or another are despicable, and oversimplifying the case to the point where one man is completely innocent and the other completely guilty is naïve. I can’t begin to tell non-Christians how to process this trial, but for those who are believers, two of my seminary professors have very wise counsel on the matter.
Russell Moore, whose Ethics course I took earlier this year at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently re-posted a great article (which I shared on this blog when it originally appeared two years ago) about the role of the gospel in fighting racial injustice. As the new president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Moore is one of the leading Southern Baptist voices on ethical issues, and I think he is right to focus on racial justice.
Al Mohler, the president of SBTS, has also published a wise and compassionate article that reminds us of the central tragedy of the case and the immensity of the challenge that lies ahead in our country, a challenge in which compassionate, conservative Christians must take the lead by boldly proclaiming the gospel, and living it out in every aspect of our lives.
I know this world would be a better place
The only race would be the human race
All of those barriers would be erased
Why can’t we be color blind?