The recent verdict in the George Zimmerman trial does not affirm that we have a problem with race in America. Yet, I am convinced we do have a race problem in America.
The “Stand Your Ground” law was passed in 2005, the year after I moved from Florida after living there for a little over 2 years. I recall thinking when I read about the law: “All I have to do is tell someone I was scared and that justifies me killing someone?” Good grief that seemed like a low threshold.
That is the law in Florida. And, as much as it pains me to say so, the jury’s verdict in the George Zimmerman case was correct based on the law.
Our race problem is really the genesis of the problem in the George Zimmerman case. There is no question that profiling led to George Zimmerman to do what he did. His own words to the police dispatcher reveal his bias against a young man he did not know: “‘F___ing punks. Those a__holes, they always get away.’
I believe the reason so many of us are outraged at the verdict is it seems that George Zimmerman’s obligation as a neighborhood watchman was to contact the police if he saw something and to then wait for the police to address the issue. We all know that was not what he did that night. If he had done that, Trayvon Martin would not have died that night. The guidelines for being a neighborhood watch person specify that no firearms are supposed to be carried (though I’ve not been able to confirm or deny if the homeowner’s association had adopted any neighborhood watch guidelines).
We have anecdotal evidence of the police profiling blacks. There too many reports of blacks being stopped for “no reason” while out driving. The criminal justice system has tremendous imbalances. African Americans are incarcerated at a rate 6 times that of what the white population experiences. African Americans and Hispanics represent over 58% of those in the prison population while these groups represent only about 25% of our total population. For more information, I strongly encourage you to read this summary.
The following video is quite revealing. It demonstrates how a white male, a white woman and an African American male are treated by people on the street committing the same crime in plain view in a public park. Do we have a race problem in America? We do.
Our criminal justice system was unable to punish George Zimmerman for killing Traynon Martin. Some wise person asked the question, “What if George Zimmerman had simply offered to give Trayvon Martin a ride home to get out of the rain?” What if he had assumed something different than he assumed?
How do we correct this race problem? It is not going to be easy. If it was, we would have already accomplished it.
One of the most important principles in the Jesuit tradition — the tradition Pope Francis is from — is the notion of “social justice.” We see Pope Francis pushing priests, bishops and everyone in the leadership hierarchy to eschew the trappings of riches and commit to living a life of simplicity and giving to their world. As I understand it, “social justice” implies there is no difference between people, no matter what their station in life and that we should treat everyone as equals. It implores us to treat each other with dignity and acceptance, not with judgment and criticism.
The move away from racism has to come from within our hearts and minds. We should assume the best in others, not the worst. We must not be so fearful. We have to treat others as we want to be treated. And, we have to be far more tolerant of the differences in our fellow men and women. I know we are capable of this. There are real examples in our everyday world.
Dave Gardner, Gardner & Associates Consulting http://www.gardnerandassoc.com