Written by Malcolm Walls
Monday, 22 July 2013 00:00
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., is Director of Urban Recruitment and Student Services at Biblical Seminary.