Today’s post will be full of unpleasant truths and things that many don’t want to hear. But I promise that it will be worth your time to read it in its entirety. I promise to do an ABBA video or a Stormy story this week to make up for this longer post. It’s about 3,000 words and it works best if you read it all.
Before diving into the topic at hand, I’d like to say a word about the press in this country. I’m including myself in the club as I write this blog for you to read, whether or not certain members of the United States Congress agree that I’m a journalist. At a minimum, I’m an editorialist.
Every thing you read, everything you see on television, everything on the internet, and everything you hear on the radio is designed to sell you something. This includes public figures and “personalities” who babble in front of rallies. Each and every single one of us is interested in your buying our sponsor’s product, following our Messiah, or buying our books. Sometimes it’s just the power trip of knowing that you have 4.67 million people who tune in to your show every week. I am part of that crowd.
I did not start this blog for altruistic purposes. I thoroughly enjoy it now, and I love the open channel I have with my readers. I’ve made a determined effort to use it for good at least once a week. But I very grudgingly began this a few years ago because I’d been told, repeatedly, that if you ever wanted to sell a book you needed a blog. Fine. I’ll start a stupid blog – I don’t have to enjoy it – I won’t write much – etc.
So, there’s my motivation right up front – I want you to buy the books I write once they are published. In the meantime, it’s all free, baby.
The rest of the press is the same. They want you to buy something whether it’s a tangible product or an ideology. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this little gem.
Depending on the network, news site, blog, Facebook page, or station you tune in on every day you are probably firmly convinced that George Zimmerman is either the greatest neighbor ever for risking his life to protect his neighborhood, or the modern incarnation of Adolph Hitler, bent on destroying all non-whites as quickly as he can pull the trigger.
Trayvon Martin, on the other hand, is an unfortunate honor student who was stalked and murdered in cold blood, or a pot-smoking thug who got kicked out of school and put on his sweatshirt so that he could skulk about and brutalize and burglarize in the dark.
The truth, as you are well aware, lies somewhere in between. But can you honestly admit that to yourself? Can you get past your tribal identity and own up to the fact that something other than your opinion might be the truth?
Something else I’d like to put you in mind of before we go further is the story of Jesus Christ and the crowd preparing to stone the adulterous woman. In the story Jesus basically says, “Fine. The first rock has to be thrown by somebody who’s never sinned.” They all dropped the rocks and went home.
I can’t pick up that rock. I’m pretty sure you can’t either. And if you honestly examine yourself you will probably have to agree with the next few paragraphs. If you don’t, you can grab that rock and let me have it right between the metaphorical eyes.
We are all creatures created by God. He made us perfect, but we start slipping out of that track immediately after birth. Little babies, puppies, cows, and any other creature you can name flinches when approached by “the other.” We are most comfortable at first glance with people just like us. We like our favorite foods best, and if something is “too” we shy away from it. Why? Because while God created us in perfection, our sin (as a people) has flawed us.
As a species lives past one generation it does so because it can spot danger. Think of all the dangers you’ve avoided today – you didn’t burn yourself on the stove and catch fire when frying your eggs. You made it to work through traffic because you knew to look out for cars and anticipate people’s bad behavior behind the wheel. You didn’t stand on the wheeled chair to change a light bulb in the lobby because it’s a stupid thing to do. That’s sophisticated thinking. But it’s not so different from how we come out of the womb – we alert to patterns and appearance and shy away from differences.
Whether you are black, white, yellow, brown, or red in skin color, you have the same instinctual reaction to different people. I’m not a sociologist – I don’t even play one on television. But in your unguarded moments you let those danger signals fly and others see them on your face. You stiffen up and start to prepare to fight or run when an unknown comes toward you.
That’s just who we are as people. It’s nothing we have any control over until we are trained to work past it in our youth. Some people, like me, take longer to get the message. I’m not perfect by a long shot. At some point in my life, including this week, I’ve had the most foul and rotten thoughts and words form in my mind, and often on my tongue, about others based on those same characteristics that nature identifies as “the other.” I have, however, learned to hold that ugliness inside and vanquish it with reason and prayer. I still stink as a wretched sinner, but I work very hard not to visit my flaws and sin on others.
The difference is that God gave us the ability to learn. We might still flinch mentally, but logic and reason should kick in at that next microsecond and guide our thinking from “They look different = they are dangerous” to, “Is there a threat from their demeanor and do they have any weapons they might use.” In other words, we go from anything different being a threat to identifying actual threat factors that we can dismiss or act upon depending on the circumstances.
We are not much different from the Hubble telescope – deeply flawed in our nature, but a wonderful gift with proper instruction and programming. For much as the mirrors that constitute the basis of the Hubble were ground improperly and couldn’t focus, we are imperfect lenses of the world. The Hubble has been corrected by means of some additional mirrors and complex software that “fixed” the optical distortions and now renders clear images.
And is not our brain but a computer that takes what our lenses produce? Can’t we change if we’re taught to love and respect our fellow man? Can we not get past that stupidity, prejudice, cruelty and ignorance? I think we can – but like the Hubble, we have to work at it every time a new picture is taken.
The media did a great injustice to the Martin/Zimmerman case by selling us ring-side seats and asking us to wear a different colored shirt depending on who we “supported.” Supported. As though George Zimmerman won’t suffer from having taken that life for the rest of his own. As though the Martin family didn’t lose a son in a moment of darkness that carries on for the rest of their lives.
I can identify with both men (and while Trayvon was only 17, he was a man physically) involved in that altercation. Take a moment to look at my picture and then I’ll resume.
All teenagers are indestructible in their own minds. I know I was. Other people might lose fights; get hurt, die, but not me. You’re the strongest, fastest, smartest, and most agile kid in the neighborhood when it comes right down to the final bell. And because of that, even if you have a great moral compass and great parents, young men occasionally will die. You will push the envelope so far that nobody can bring you back. It’s doubly true if you’re actually bigger, stronger, and more dangerous in appearance than most people. That’s why armies have way more 18 year olds than 48 year olds – the older guys understand the danger in a different way and know they can break and die.
I had you look at my picture because that’s the image I try to convey for television and print advertising. The dangerous biker thug. I’ve made more than a few mortgage payments due to my appearance. But the flip side is that I scare the snot out of little kids and smaller adults unless I remember that my 6 foot 350 pound frame, shaved head, and long beard are “the other” to most of the population. All big guys know about this “power” we have at our fingertips. Reggie (hi, Reggie) who reads this blog knows what I mean. He’s my size and a bit more. He’s a great guy, very pleasant – but old people clutch their purses a little more tightly on their laps when either one of us get on the bus or sit down next to them on a bench. We scare people by our very appearance.
As a result I try very hard not to loom over people, to crowd their space, or give them a truly dirty look. Why? Because it increases danger to me. I know I’m a nice guy – they don’t. They see a member of the Hell’s Angels coming toward them in the alley when it’s only me going to get my car behind the nightclub. That’s something I avoid doing – scaring people enough that they prepare to defend themselves. Because you never know when things will go wrong and you’ll get hurt. I don’t need any punches in the face or mace in the eyes – or a bullet in my lungs. But it can happen if people feel cornered.
And George Zimmerman – I identify with him as well. It seems that he was getting his butt kicked in that fight. What led up to the fight? Who was in the right? It didn’t matter in the final analysis because once the fight’s on, it’s going somewhere.
Have you ever been in a physical altercation that may have resulted in your death? Or, the death of your opponent? If you have, you will understand what Zimmerman and Martin were engaged in that night. I’ve been there more than once. I know the pounding of adrenalin, the urge to void your bladder, the need to get on top and make sure they didn’t get your gun. Your world doesn’t include any complex thought about how many times you can get punched in the face before you pass out, or will they actually use your own gun on you if they get it out of the holster? Nope, you just fight until you win or die.
The very first time I felt that way, and had to fight for my life, was over thirty years ago. I remember every second of it just like it was two minutes ago. We (my training officer and I) pulled over a car for an equipment violation. When we approached the car three of them jumped out and went to town on us. I thought I might die. I was bigger, stronger, and no doubt better armed. But they were high on PCP and felt no pain. Harry and I were losing the fight until the magic point when we missed our five minute radio check.
Five minutes is about forever when you’re rolling on the ground, people are grabbing for your gun, punching you, kicking, clawing, kneeing, and trying to kill you. I honestly think the only reason one of us didn’t have to shoot one or more of them was that the entire off-going watch, 11 or so cops, boiled out of the police department parking lot a block away and came to our rescue. It took every one of them to dog-pile on the suspects and handcuff them. The crazy fools continued to fight once we got them to the jail. I’ll never forget it.
I think that’s exactly where George Zimmerman was on that rainy night in Florida. His opponent was bigger, stronger, faster, and probably way angrier. And Zimmerman was getting his skull slammed on the concrete. If you’ve ever had a concussion, you know what that’s like – lights out is just one more bash away.
Did Zimmerman have to shoot Trayvon Martin? God knows. I don’t. I don’t even think George Zimmerman really knows. Trayvon knew – he was the only one on the planet that knew what he intended to do that night. Maybe just scare the dude following him. Maybe kill him. But Zimmerman couldn’t take that chance once he was down and getting bashed. So he fired.
A life was snuffed out. Right? Wrong? Again, God knows. But the criminal justice system derailed shortly afterward. The investigators didn’t think Zimmerman did it maliciously. He was cooperative with the police – far more than most self-defense courses tell you to be without a lawyer in your front pocket. The locals declined prosecution. Sometimes that’s the right thing. Sometimes it’s not.
It all became political at that point. The “activists” moved in and everything became a racial issue whether nor not it started out that way. People picked sides. The media turned it in to a circus. People put a price on Zimmerman’s head – hunting him like a trophy.
None of it helped pursue justice. With over 12,000 homicides in the United States each year we’d have to add about 600 cable networks and the staff to keep them running to cover each one the same way we covered this one local shooting. Chicago alone would have its own fiber optic feed for all the murders there each day.
The death of that young man fit into a narrative that some want so terribly to be true that the facts won’t stop them. People on “both sides.” But what it really was, at its core, was a struggle on a darkened sidewalk between two guys that resulted in a death.
The prosecution did their best, but it was a weak case under Florida law. The law doesn’t say anything about color, race, religious beliefs, or education. It simply says that if you are in fear for your life you can use deadly force. The state couldn’t meet the burden of proving otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury decided that there was not enough to send Mr. Zimmerman to jail. It was over. I hope it stays over. It’s going to prove nothing to pursue a single civilian for a civil rights violation in a case that has already seen the courts. It’s going to look vindictive and petty if it is pursued, and prolong the anger and hatred just that much longer. So much the better that all involved take this opportunity to talk about how we can change as a people to sooth that wound. To make a better union within our union of states. To quote Rodney King, “Can we all get along?”
And when the verdict was read some beautiful things happened. First, and without a doubt the classiest move I’ve seen in many years, was made by the Martin family. They asked people to remain calm. Not to act out. They went to church and mourned their son.
Several people I know had been breathlessly awaiting the verdict on Facebook. Some on “either side” as the media would like it to be. Some were ready to be outraged no matter what the verdict. Some planned on blaming the system before the jury returned its verdict, knowing that it was going to punish Trayvon for being black.
Others were just as anxiously, and gleefully, awaiting the riots and fires so that they could say, “See, you should have locked down your big screen television – that’s what “they” wanted all along – an excuse to loot.”
But the ones that amazed me, and blessed me, and encouraged me most were the people whom I expected the least of – and they turned to God.
No calls for flipping over cars. No calls for shooting strangers (either looters or store owners.) No nothing except the posting of a scripture passage, a prayer, a request for mercy on everyone involved.
Those people, the really spectacular surprises on “both sides” were the ones who engaged the new programming that reason and God had given them to deal with their more base instincts. They knew that their hearts and minds were flawed just like mine, but they focused the blurry image of the mirror and turned it towards Heaven. They looked to God for guidance and forgiveness.
And they were peacemakers. Blessed be the peacemakers.
The morning following the verdict I visited a church other than my own. I wasn’t ducking anyone, I just needed to find a service that fit my night shift – my church cuts back to one in the middle of the morning in July. So I visited the church I almost joined two years ago. Another Missionary Baptist Church. And while the two white faces there that morning constituted less than 5% of the congregation, I was greeted as one of God’s children. A fellow brother in Christ. And it was at peace. Like the rest of the congregation I said a prayer for the Martin family. And I threw one in for the Zimmerman family as well. Both families have a lot of healing to deal with right now. And I was at home with my brothers and sisters in faith. No black, no white, just a bunch of Missionary Baptists on a Sunday morning who came to worship together.
My challenge to you today is to just sit and think about what I’ve said. We all have flaws. What flaws are you working to overcome? Do you acknowledge that you are flawed, racist, sexist, bigoted, ignorant? Or are you grabbing for that rock? Because if for even one nanosecond you’ve entertained a flash of any prejudice or contempt based on appearance or origin in your own mind, you’re as guilty as if you stood on a street corner and shouted it out loud. It’s not a fatal flaw, it’s an opportunity to change and grow. And to ask for God to grant you forgiveness.
Turn toward God. Use your mind and your gifts to refocus that blurry image you see. Let the red bleed out of the edges of your vision and take a deep breath. I’m sure the Martins and the Zimmermans all wish that their sons had done exactly that on that winter’s night in a dark and damp neighborhood in Sanford.
We gain nothing from pursuing George Zimmerman. Nor do we gain from trashing Trayvon Martin. Let’s pray for both of them, and their families, instead.
And the next time you get all revved up about what you see on television, read on Facebook, or even on this blog, take a deep breath. Think about what the writer has to gain from that viewpoint, and ask yourself one question: “Is this how God wants me to act?”