There are many deeply troubling things about the murder of Trayvon Martin, not least of which is that, three months after George Zimmerman was found innocent, we seem to have stopped troubling ourselves about it.
You remember what happened. Trayvon, a 17-year-old boy, was walking home one night in Sanford, Fla., in February 2012 and was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator for the gated community in which the murder occurred. America's long simmering racial tensions erupted. People rallied all across America, calling for justice. And, then, silence.
On July 13, Zimmerman was acquitted. Again rallies, speeches and social unrest occurred, this time not only in America but worldwide. Many were mystified. How could Zimmerman approach an unarmed black boy, question that boy, call 911 when that boy didn't respond "properly," ignore police instructions to stay in his vehicle, shoot that boy in the midst of the ensuing altercation and then not be found guilty of any charges? How was this verdict possible?
Many were outraged because the verdict demonstrated just how deeply entrenched racism still is in our nation. Of course there were many rationalizations. We heard that Trayvon was far more "menacing" than the cute picture from his early teens that was circulating on the Internet. We heard that the jury was just doing its job. And we heard that Florida's stand your ground self-defense law actually wasn't the basis for Mr. Zimmerman's defense (even though it clearly shaped the jury's understanding of its instructions). All of these rationalizations gloss over the fact that an unarmed black teenager was murdered and no one was held accountable. If the murder itself wasn't racist, certainly the system that delivered a not-guilty verdict is.
This summer in Hartford, on July 16, three days after Zimmerman was set free, people met in outrage at the Kaballah House on Albany Avenue. They sat in sweltering heat discussing how to respond to the verdict. A rally was held in Hartford's North End on July 22 in which 300 people, including Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, participated. Grief and anguish, frustration and outrage were palpable in the night air.
And, then, after that, more silence. Why? A new civil rights movement seems ever over the horizon, never here. Where are the demands for justice: An end to the war on African American males, to race-based disparities in health care, to illegal weapons flooding our city streets, to a race-based educational, achievement and wealth gap? Are we just going to wait for the murder of another black teen?
Let us take action as a community before the next tragedy. Let us use the grief, anguish, frustration and outrage felt in July to fuel social change, to fuel that new civil rights movement for which we yearn and whose time is long overdue. Let us start by calling for an end to stand your ground laws, especially in Florida.
After Trayvon's murder, and then again after the verdict, many people spoke about boycotting Florida — refusing to vacation there, refusing to go to Disney World, refusing to consume products grown and produced there, refusing to patronize restaurants that have their headquarters there. We are calling for a boycott of Florida until its self-defense laws are reformed so that innocent people cannot be murdered without consequences. This is something doable and effective and we will be working to organize it.
What happened to Trayvon Martin and what happens every day to unnamed children of color sacrificed on the altar of racism, in both blatant and insidious ways, should, to paraphrase womanist theologian Emilie Townes, cause a "troubling in our souls." If it doesn't, and we choose to do nothing, perhaps it is because we have no soul left to be troubled in.
Cornell Lewis of Bloomfield is a minister and a community activist in Hartford. Rabbi Donna Berman is executive director of the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford. The Rev. Josh Pawelek is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society: East in Manchester.Copyright © 2015, CT Now