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I have been asked to explain why the black community is so frustrated by the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial. On one hand, from my vantage point, the frustration ought to be obvious to anyone who is familiar with the black experience in America. However, I also know that we still live in a deeply racially segregated society which has especially fragmented knowledge and awareness of the lived experience of African American communities within the consciousness of dominant culture. This lack of rubbing shoulders in meaningful ways, along with the forgetfulness and inability to contextualize the present time with the long ongoing realities that brought us up to this point, results in nothing more than a disorienting confusion for some around why people have responded so profoundly to Trayvon Martin’s killing.

Therefore, what seems obvious to those within the black community, and to many people around the world who have watched this case with curiosity, still remains blurry for many who are a part of the dominant culture and have the privilege of not needing to understand the deep ongoing pains and concerns of the only people group in America to be brought to this land not seeking freedom but rather bound by the dehumanizing chains of American chattel slavery. To not know or care about the actual frustrations of African Americans, and to choose to make straw men arguments rather than to be disciplined in actually hearing the voice of those that cry out, leads us to our current question: ‘Why are black people responding now with such frustration?’

It was 1981, in Mobile, Alabama, when Michael Donald (an African American) was walking home and was randomly chosen and abducted by two white men. He was terribly beaten. Eventually, they fulfilled their purpose in being there for the night by tying a noose around his neck and lynching him. This is generally considered the last recorded lynching of a black man in the United States.

But we must remember that, even after slavery ended at the end of the 19th century and we moved into the 20th century, a long sustained violence against black life erupted into the fabric of American society. Black people needed to know their place and to realize that black life was dispensable, so lynching became the perfect symbolic tool of terror. After slavery, there were over 5,000 recorded lynchings in America; young black men of course endured the brunt of that senseless violence, usually without any legal protection or pursuit of conviction by the authorities.

On top of that, let us remember Rosewood, Tulsa, Omaha, Atlanta, and Chicago. Each place had massive riots or massacres in the early 20th century in which white citizens attacked black communities, often resulting in many deaths. During all of the violence and terror, rarely were white people held accountable for their actions. Michael Donald’s lynching ended a long and painful era of unashamed overt white terrorism and violence against black people in mass, but the memory of this phase of our history is still fresh in our consciousness.

In 1955, some white men grabbed 14 year old Emmitt Till from his uncle’s house where he was visiting. They were angry because he whistled at a white woman, so they took and tortured this child, gouging out one of his eyes and beating him until his face was unrecognizable. After the torture was complete, they shot him and tied a heavy cotton gin around his neck and dropped him in the river. When the details of the crime were released, the black community was outraged. It’s not that things like this hadn’t happened before, because lynchings were commonplace in the early 20th century. It is just that people had had enough. This moment is considered to be an important part in re-galvanizing the Southern Freedom movement.

Why were people angry and frustrated? It was about the 350 years of having their lives be deemed as worthless and invaluable. It was the 350 years of having no justice in the courts. It was the 350 years of having their cries and pains be dismissed. And yes, even back in the 50s and 60s, most white people responded to polls believing that race wasn’t a serious problem. This currently seems ridiculous, but people do not realize that those same societal blinders often remain today in those that deny that race impacts American life profoundly.

When Zimmerman was not found guilty (of anything) in the courts, it was in many ways just one more slap in the face. We are a peculiar people. We were slaves in the ‘Land of the Free’. So now, Trayvon represents all those black bodies that have been violated over the past 400 years. Trayvon represents the way in which black men now are always seen with a gaze of suspicion and criminality. In my own lifetime, Trayvon represents James Byrd, Rodney King, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Troy Davis, Amadou Diallo, and many others who suffered for their unforgivable crime of merely being black in America.

Trayvon represents those who are currently being humiliated under the Stop-And-Frisk policies that statistics have proven are almost exclusively harassing (often over and over again) innocent black and Latino youth who ultimately have no weapons or drugs on them when searched. And Trayvon represents what Michelle Alexander has exposed as The New Jim Crow, for its proven discriminatory track record of locking up thousands of young black men for nonviolent drug possession and handing down harsher sentences for black and brown youth. This is so, even though serious research points to, despite our stereotypes, an equal percentage of usage and selling of drugs within the white community as that of the black community.

So, I hope it is understood that this had everything to do with Trayvon as our symbolic son and the pain that has touched every black family over and over again in every generation, for almost four hundred years. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. So Trayvon, like Emmitt Till did over 50 years ago, has sparked a people to mourn and to stand up for truth and justice in a land that has claimed those ideals but refused to practice them. That is why so many are frustrated and have had enough. And the black community is now looking to see how self professed Christians will respond to a people that are struggling, hurting, and continually violated. Will it be a response of solidarity with those on the margins like Jesus exhibited or will it be apathy?

Consider reading the post I wrote two days after the verdict which explicitly engages how my faith in Jesus offers hope despite a painful verdict. You can find it at http://drewgihart.com/2013/07/15/pain-medicine-trayvon-simon-of-cyrene-and-jesus/.


Drew Hart studied Biblical Studies at Messiah College for his B.A. and is a MDiv graduate from Biblical Seminary. He is currently a PhD student at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. He is also an associate pastor at Montco Bible Fellowship, in Lansdale, PA. He blogs at www.drewgihart.comand his twitter handle is @DruHart.

Comments 

 
+2 #15 Phil DiLernia 2013-07-27 23:03
These posts remind me why we are struggling to get past these issues and become - truly - a post racial nation. I have two observations 1) as a 54 year old white male I can state unequivocally that race relations are worse today than when I grew up in the 70's. That is sad. 2) when people in the media say we need a "conversation" what that typically means is that one side wants to "scold" the other and tell them "how they feel" without being willing to listen to how the other side feels. That guarantees failure in our hopes to move forward.

I hope that one day we can converse - TWO WAYS - so both sides can hear the fears and hopes and frustrations of the other side and count them as all relevant and important to those that experience them. I pray that it is the church of Jesus Christ which leads the way in that endeavor.

God's peace to you all,

Phil
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0 #14 Addy 2013-07-27 14:55
Excellent article
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0 #13 Nicole 2013-07-26 07:53
Thanks for helping me understand a little better but what still puzzles me is trayvon history of violence despite being a minor. Just because he was under 18, doesn't mean he couldn't be a threat. I did see some pictures recently released of what Zimmerman looked like.

Also Zimmerman Latino (Peruvian) so why does it become such a big black against white issue? (Maybe that's a dumb question since I know at times there's a big split in the 'black' community between lighter & darker skin people, which is a mystery to me as well)
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+1 #12 Emily Bean 2013-07-26 00:23
Drew,
This is an exceptionally written article, delivering truth in such a composed yet direct manner. I was so impressed by the author, then when I got to the end, I realized that it's you! I am still very impressed and thankful that you were willing to put the effort into helping people understand the significance of this situation. Keep up the good work.
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0 #11 Drew Hart 2013-07-25 17:40
Thank you, to those that have actually read and wrestled with what I have written here. I really believe that running to the old debates over the case in a context like this will be unhelpful, because many are starting with extremely diverging presuppositions . Particularly, the issue of race in America and justice in America are understood differently. What I have tried to unpack here, in a unfortunately very brief post, is a narrative pointing that race has been a continual part of fabric of America from 1619 up to the present. As well, that justice has never been dispensed fairly and equally when racial factors are involved. There are much better resources and university studies demonstrating that reality more than I have, but for the purpose of this post I think my point is sufficient. To be black in America has meant to live under the threat of violence without being offered legal protection. I have offered a sanitized version of the realities that have gone on in America. Consider buying the book "Without Sanctuary" which is a book of lynching pictures, all post slavery. Sometimes we need to actually see what was done for it to sink in and understand the depth of the violence done against black people in America. Then pick up "The New Jim Crow". I think after reading and wrestling with those to texts, people will be able to have a better dialogue around issues like this.
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0 #10 Wesley Roy 2013-07-25 10:29
Isaac if there had been a real prosecution of this case you would have made a star witness.

You testify that fists and feet are more common murder weapons than firearms so gz had to go to intentional, uncommon measures to secure a firearm to kill Trayvon.

You admit that Trayvon was a child and not a man. So gz's act was perpetrated against a minor child which "usually" carries stiffer penalties in america.

You said a single punch can land someone in intensive care and do permanent damage casting doubt on gz's story considering he claims to have endured multiple punches with no permanent damage and no need of intensive care.

You said that in 8 seconds someone attacked in the way gz narrated his supposed attack suffered permanent brain damage which again castes great doubt on gz's story of enduring the same conditions for 45 seconds (over 5 times as long) and not even needing 1 stitch.

Oh, yeah, your first comment was hilarious. Unfortunately, I can't answer it because fighting in high school in now grounds for execution if you are an African-American male.

Now go back and read the original article like I read your post. You will probably learn a great deal if you want to know what people that do not look like you feel and think.
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-1 #9 Lynne 2013-07-24 22:06
I appreciate the consternation over this case but have been baffled by the level of outrage over the verdict. It seems to me there are a lot of assumptions and emotions being interjected where they don't quite fit. Your post has helped me understand the context through which many people are interpreting all this. Thank you.
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-1 #8 Isaac 2013-07-24 20:41
Wesley Roy, you've obviously never been in a fight (outside of elementary school). According to the FBI, fists and feet were the weapon of choice for over 4,000 murders since 2007 [1]. That makes feet and fists more common murder weapons than rifles and shotguns combined for that time period.

Trayvon Martin was legally a minor, true. But physically, he was a full grown man, and he was taller, fitter, and more muscular than Zimmerman. Calling him a "child" is disingenuous at best, and deliberately dishonest in any case.

The fact that he was unarmed is irrelevant. Even a single punch can land you in intensive care and cause permanent damage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zNjjGiDGj_k

But Zimmerman wasn't punched just once. The first punch knocked him down, and then Trayvon climbed on top of him and sat on his chest, punching his face "MMA style." Here is a video of a police officer being attacked in the exact same position witnesses say Trayvon was using to attack Zimmerman. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=1urLh8Kh_9A

Notice that her attacker was on top of her for only eight seconds. She suffered permanent brain damage from that attack. Zimmerman was on his back, screaming for help for OVER 45 SECONDS while Trayvon pounded his head into the pavement. The fact that he waited that long before shooting proves that he wasn't at all eager to shoot his attacker.

Another officer, this time in El Paso, wasn't fortunate enough to survive his attack from a 17 year old "child" http://www.elpasotimes.com/tablehome/ci_21843760/teen-accused-el-paso-officers-fatal-beating-indicted?source=rss_viewed

The truth is that every police department's Use of Force guidelines describe that type of attack as a lethal force event, for which shooting the attacker is unquestionably authorized. That is why the officers investigating Zimmerman immediately concluded it was self defense.


[1] http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-8
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-1 #7 Wesley Roy 2013-07-24 15:39
Isaac three things seem apparent from your reply. First, you had your mind made up before you read this article so you really did not read it. Secondly, you have not paid much attention to the case being discussed because Trayvon was a 17 year old BOY who could not vote or even buy liquid paper but you keep referring to him as a man. Thirdly, you have the facts twisted it was a Black BOY killed by a white(ish) man because of racial profiling not self-defense. There was never anyone in danger of dying except Trayvon since ole gz was able to get out of all that without the need of even stitches. Beaten nearly to death with no scars...highly unlikely.
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-2 #6 Isaac 2013-07-24 15:13
So is it your contention that self defense never be allowed? Or are you saying a large, muscular young man sitting on your chest and punching you in the face... is just a typical action for a young black man?

There is plenty of racism here. None of it is on the part of a white(ish) man who shot the black man who was trying to kill him. Using a racial epithet before beating somebody? That is what sounds racist to me.

I agree that there is a long history of oppression that can't be easily forgotten. But does that mean that it's okay for a black man to beat a white man to death, but it's not okay for a white man to defend himself? No, the Trayvon Martin shooting is exactly the wrong cause to put on your banner.

Yes, that shooting WAS a consequence of white racism; being kept like a dog by welfare systems designed by rich white racists to destroy family structure and keep blacks poor - that would be enough to make anybody angry. To a white racist, the most threatening thing in the world is a successful black man - it threatens his sense of superiority.

Yes, there is racism at play here. In fact, there is plenty of it to spread around. Trayvon was killed in self defense as a result of his racially motivated attempted murder. Trayvon was angry because of a social system designed to keep blacks uneducated, drug-addicted thugs like Trayvon.

But don't use this as an excuse to attack self defense laws. Hundreds of KKK attacks were thwarted by armed blacks after the civil war. Our nations first gun control laws were attempts to protect the KKK raiding parties from their armed victims. Even today, most self defense incidents are where there is the most crime - largely black urban areas, where blacks who defend themselves are too afraid of possibly racist police to report the incident.

Whatever your viewpoint, don't you dare tell me that I don't care about race, just because I don't agree that it's okay for a black man to murder a white man, but it's racist for a white man to fight back.
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+2 #5 Philip Monroe 2013-07-24 10:05
It is always easy to point out the problems not making the attention of the national media. However, that point fails to address the specific problem that both Malcolm (previous blog) and Drew address. Pointing out another problem to detract from the first raised problem invalidates. Let's talk about racial profiling and the treatment of black men. Another time we can talk about black on black crime.
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0 #4 Drew Hart 2013-07-24 09:21
Wesley, thanks for reading and responding here, it is appreciated!
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+1 #3 Drew Hart 2013-07-24 09:19
Phillip, thanks for engaging. However, I do wonder why so many have put the killing of Trayvon up against other violence in the city, as though people cannot and are not disgusted by both realities. And it is unhelpful to use black on black crime as a legitimizing tool to keep people from protesting the racial profiling of Trayvon and his death that resulted from Zimmerman's prejudicial and unwise actions. Also, for the record, 86% percent of all white crime is committed against white people. It is also strikingly high, right? Well, that is because both white on white crime and black on black crime point to the reality that these crimes are being committed out of opportunity of those that are within close proximity. In other words, neither white on white crime nor black on black crime suggests any racial motivation but rather, it was a crime against those who were basically close by. Now the truth is that most churches in the city that are speaking up against Trayvon's killing have for decades been speaking against the violence and crime in the city. In fact, many urban churches participate in programs to get guns off the street, do public prayer vigils and memorials when there is local violence, and encourage their own church members to help end the senseless violence.

As for your lynching claims, it just isn't true! Most people who participated in Lynching in the early 20th century were not accountable for their actions. Some of the later lynchings like what happened to Michael Donald resulted in prosecution. Likewise, when James Byrd had his neck tied to a rope after being brutally beaten, and then was dragged along the road until his body parts were pulled off in the late 90s, then yeah they were convicted. But the most of the lynchings early in the 20th century did not respond the same way people do know to such overtly blatant and violent racism.

So, yeah, I mourn with you over all senseless and ugly violence! But that should not make me quiet when I believe that Trayvon's death was the outcome of Zimmerman's racially profiling him and following him. Again, thanks for reading and responding to the post.
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-1 #2 Wesley Roy 2013-07-24 09:17
Philip there is a great article written addressing your question of why people are outraged about the UNARMED CHILD Trayvon being killed by gz written by Drew Hart entitled, "Explaining Black Pain in Light of the Zimmerman Verdict". READ IT! It would greatly enhance your understanding of the entire situation. By the way those who lynched people were not tried and sentenced. The murderers of the UNARMED CHILD Emmitt Till were all found "not" guilty. Your comment illustrates the dominate culture's attempt to redirect or ignore the issue or anything but address the current issue.
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-4 #1 Philip A Moore 2013-07-23 20:03
excuse me but there have been more people of color killed by other people of color since the verdict came down then killed by whites during that space of time. This includes three under the ages of ten two of them were girls. Who is crying for all these victims. As for the lynching you mentioned most the people who did it were sentenced to death and have actually been executed. One of them made history by getting the last meal banned in Texas. what get me is that Trayvon was not a little guy. he was big and intimidating . yet the media only show him at twelve year old maybe it is the false portrayal is the real reason people get up in arms think about could a little guy get some as big George Zimmerman to the ground, no.
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