In 1856, Dred Scott petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for his freedom and they ruled against him stating that the Bill of Rights did not apply to African-Americans.

In 1955, Emmett Louis Till, an African-American young man, was murdered in Mississippi at the age of 14 for reportedly flirting with a white woman. The jury found the men involved in the murder “Not Guilty”.

In 1963, Medgar Evers, was killed by Byron De La Beckwith who was convicted thirty years later after the crime.

In 1991 Rodney King was brutally beaten by police officers. Though the beating was video recorded, three of the four officers involved were initially acquitted of the charges.

Later in 1991, Latasha Harlins, a 15 year old African-American, was murdered by Soon Ja Du over a bottle of orange juice at a store. She was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and it was recommended that she serve a 16 year prison sentence but in the end she was sentenced to probation.

In 2013, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman who was also found “Not Guilty”.

As an African American male, when I think of the aforementioned, it is obvious that there are systemic racial issues that rest at the core of this great nation. After reading comments and blogs it has become clear that those who are not African-American, though they sympathize with African-Americans, will never truly understand why the “Not Guilty” verdict of George Zimmerman makes us so upset.

The frustration that is felt is not just from this trial but it is from the previous trials and unjust experiences that we as a race have had to endure. This verdict is a reminder that the playing field is not even. It reminds me that the judicial system has racism flowing through its veins. It reminds me that people still view African-American men as thugs. It reminds me that as an African-American father, even if I raise my son to honor God, achieve academic excellence, to be respectful, and he does all of that, he is still prone to be profiled as a criminal or thug based solely upon his clothing and the color of his skin.

It reminds me of every time I was followed in a store and wrongly accused of shoplifting. It reminds me of the times, growing up in the south, when I was called every derogatory word an African-American man can be called, and then being told to accept it because that is what I am. It reminds me of the times I have been stopped by police for “Driving While Black”. It reminds me that neither Justin Beiber nor Mark Zuckerberg has been classified as a hoodlum when wearing a hoodie. It reminds me that Michael Vick got two years in prison for killing a dog and Zimmerman was found “Not Guilty” for killing an African-American young man. It reminds me that most of the men in the prison system are African-American.

Those who are not African-American were not faced with these reminders as the verdict was read because they have not lived this life nor been treated in such a demeaning fashion. To understand why this verdict has caused such an uproar amongst African-Americans, everyone who is not African-American must walk in our shoes and experience all of the hate, mistreatment, and injustice that many if not all of us have had to endure. Then and only then will they begin to understand the pain of this verdict.

This country has had a long history of racism within a judicial system where African-Americans get the short end of the stick. This is the beginning of the conversation of why many are upset. The emotions are deeply rooted and just when we think there will be justice, the proverbial rug is once again pulled from underneath us.

But why should a seminary address this issue? Jesus said in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”. Within the gospel of Jesus Christ there is a mandate for justice and to see those oppressed experience freedom. This freedom includes the freedom to walk with skittles and Arizona Iced Tea, without fear of being stereotyped or even murdered. As those sent by Jesus, it should compel us to begin to address systematic issues of injustice.

If we fail to do this and remain silent, then we too become part of the problem.

Pastor Malcolm C. Walls, Jr., was Director of Urban Recruitment and Student Services at Biblical Seminary.


+1 # Philip Monroe 2013-07-22 14:50
Well done Malcolm. Thanks for this perspective that places this case in the larger context. I find many in the dominant culture struggle to see context outside of the present.
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+4 # Mike 2013-07-23 08:34
"This freedom includes the freedom to walk with skittles and Arizona Iced Tea, without fear of being stereotyped or even murdered."
Absolutely. it does not, however, include the freedom to assault another human being, which is the issue in the Martin case, and the difference between this case, and all the examples provided. Just when you think there will be justice - implies then only a guilty verdict satisfies "justice", when in reality, denying someone (Zimmerman in this case) the opportunity to be found not guilty in a case with as many questions and uncertainties as this one is denying the very justice you seek.
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+1 # Philip Monroe 2013-07-23 14:20
Mike, I think one of the reasons there is so much angst about this is that we have to confront the larger problem of profiling and history of injustice. I did not read the entire case and so can't comment on the specifics of this one but part of the problem seemed to be the initial profiling or prejudice. Without that, there would be no further case at all. Whether racial profiling is the heart of this case or not, I do not know but it has happened so frequently that it surely triggers lots of memories, at Malcolm indicated in the post. Hopefully, that is something that we can face--our country's long history of injustice towards a peoplegroup. Let us work to address that injustice.
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0 # Duane Belgrave 2013-07-25 02:56
Malcolm, Thanks for placing the Trayvon Martin tragedy in its proper historical context and for your willingness to share your story and your thoughts. . I was not shocked by the verdict but I was angered and disappointed . . . once again. As a Black male in America, I, too, (since about the age of 12 or 13) know what it is like to be considered “suspicious” and “dangerous.” Unfortunately, the Trayvon Martin tragedy reminds me all too well that I know what is to be “endangered” as well.
As the father of three Black male children, I must now redouble my efforts to ensure and pray for their safety.
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+2 # Duane Belgrave 2013-07-25 02:57
A few random thoughts:
George Zimmerman was not the only one on trial: Trayvon Martin was also on trial. However, we will never hear Trayvon’s side of the story.

Although I must admit that I’ve not read the statute as it applies to Florida, Trayvon Martin also had the right to stand his ground as he was being followed at night by a “creepy” stranger.

There is much to discuss and many changes that need to take place with respect to this tragic situation which one blogger correctly characterized as an “intersection of race and guns. “ There is much to be reflected upon, discussed and, most importantly, to be done regarding this tragic situation and its underlying causal factors. Regardless of our particular demographic, all of us—as a community, as a nation, as the church—have work to do to address the historical and social climate that habitually results in tragic situations like this one—including the trial verdict. Frankly, some of us have more to do than others and some of us have less to do, but we ought to do our part, we are all “on the hook”—ignoring it won’t absolve us. The questions remains: Do we have the will to do it? Will we remain in our comfort zones? Who is our neighbor?

There is one thing I do know: a boy is dead. A mother, a father, a family and friends have lost a loved one far too soon. In the midst of our rhetoric, opinions, posturing, symbolizing, etc., a human life has ended. As a grim reminder of this fact, I downloaded the eerie picture of a uncovered Trayvon Martin lying lifeless in the grass with police detectives standing around. One commentator correctly criticized the media outlet that put this picture out on the Web for taking the choice to or not to do so out of Trayvon's parents' hands: a decision that a very courageous Mamie Till made 58 years earlier "So the world could see what they did to my boy."
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0 # Jim 2013-07-27 16:04
With all due respect to the unjust treatment of blacks in the past, this case is not about that. Malcolm has given us history, and a shameful one at that, but he has unfortunately not properly framed THIS case. THIS case is about a neighborhood that has a crime problem. THIS case is about a young man of character and compassion toward blacks, shown by kindness in tutoring them. THIS case is about the courage to patrol that neighborhood to protect it from possible strangers who threaten it. TM was an unidentifiable (hoodie) stranger - he did not reside there. TM attacked GZ; and from TM's friend Rachael's testimony a week ago, we now know he attacked GZ, to give him some "whoopass" because she warned him that GZ could be a homosexual predator. If any profiling was done, THAT was it - a homophobic profiling. So, Malcolm, I'm sorry for your pain, and the Martin's pain - but please don't forget the pain inside TM - not from being profiled (which he was not in THIS case) - but the pain of coming from a broken home. He attacked GZ (who is not white), probably full of anger at life - which he demonstrated at school. The pervasive dysfunctional nature of the black home is the most important system you could address. Please have the courage to start there, and not place the blame on the victim in THIS case. Anyone who starts a fight should not expect it to end well.
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