For Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin and his dad, Tracy Martin

This evening a six member jury in Florida found George Zimmerman not guilty in the murder of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. Though a verdict was delivered I can’t say justice was served.

A teenager walking home was profiled, followed and shot to death at point blank range by George Zimmerman. No one has been held accountable. That cannot be justice.

I do not pretend to comprehend all the complexities of race relations in America. However, I do think it is obvious that if Trayvon Martin was white, instead of black, George Zimmerman would have never assumed he was “suspicious”, never gotten out of his car, never followed him, and never ended his life. Trayvon Martin would be alive today. The bottom line is this: a man with a gun killed a teenager who was committing no crime because the boy was black – and the man was not held criminally culpable. As a parent, as a minority, that is a chilling and frightening outcome.

Tonight in America, justice was not served.

Over a century and a half ago, the minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker spoke about his belief that the scourge of slavery would someday end:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Parker was right. Slavery did end and justice was a step closer.

However, nearly a century of Jim Crow laws followed. Over a century after Theodore Parker spoke, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr echoed his words in his call for justice at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Dr. King said:

And I have not lost faith. I’m not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. I can still sing “We Shall Overcome” because Carlyle was right: “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant was right: “Truth pressed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell was right: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.” Yet, that scaffold sways the future. We shall overcome because the bible is right: “You shall reap what you sow.” With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when the lion and the lamb will lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid because the words of the Lord have spoken it. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when all over the world we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!”

The arc was bending still toward justice. But less than a year after Dr. King spoke those words, an assassin’s bullet took his life.

A half a century hence, we are still not there. Justice remains unequal and elusive for many in the black community today. Jails in America are filled today with black men serving time on far less evidence than what George Zimmerman was facing. No fancy lawyers and expensive trials, just a quick arrest and a plea before heading to jail.

We are not there yet. There is no justice tonight.

So, I weep for Trayvon Martin. I weep with Tracy Martin, his dad. I weep for my country.

I take heart though that things will not always be this way. We will have stops and starts but I believe my daughter will inherit a better world – a moral universe closer to justice. I believe we will get there. Slowly. Slower than I want and much much slower than a lot of our fellow citizens deserve. Slower still to pay the debt we the living owe Trayvon Martin.

As Bobby Kennedy said on the night Dr. King was taken from us, let us “dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

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