It’s been three years. On this night three years ago, young Trayvon Martin walked to the store to get some skittles and apple juice and was gunned down before he could return to his family. His murderer went free on account of a “law” that allows a person to stand one’s ground in the event that he or she feels threatened.
No matter that he chased after young Mr. Martin after being told not to.
It took time for news to surface; the outrage that George Zimmerman had not been arrested or charged mounted until word exploded across Twitter. That’s where I first heard of it, some 6 weeks after it happened.
I was shocked. I listened to a 911 tape of screams for help (both parents have claimed it to be their son’s voice). I can still feel the sting of the overwhelming tears. That was someone in need, but the person on the phone, on the other end of the door, was so scared that they could not open the door. I can’t say I would have been able to do any different. And then…a gunshot. The screaming was over. Trayvon Benjamin Martin was shot one time with a hollow point bullet in the chest at close range.
Would it have been different if Trayvon had been white? Lord, I think yes.
Maybe that is the only conclusive thing that can be said.
And it needs to be said. Because it keeps happening.
Trayvon would not have been followed if he would have been white. Trayvon would still be alive if he would have been white.
Mike Brown too. And Eric Garner. And Tamir Rice. And Renisha McBride.
And that is fundamentally wrong. People shouldn’t die like flies.
That value is placed on one skin color over another–that is sin, that is error, that is a misunderstanding of who God is and what God is about.
And we are called to live another way.
The fancy word is repentance, to turn. To go another way. Tis’ the season.
After such events happen — and Lord, do they happen — we need to mourn and repent and yes, change. Change our laws (especially unjust ones like the Stand Your Ground one in Florida and elsewhere), change our posture towards one another, get to know one another. We need to find a new way forward. Those with power, like myself, need to yield to others’ voices to determine what route we need to take.
A few years back I was heading north on 45th Ave. in Fargo when a person turned south but instead of going into his or her own lane, he or she drove right next to me in the open turn lane. They were going the wrong way. I knew it and they knew it. They touched the brakes in a moment of hesitation, but then decided that it was easier to just keep going. They hit the gas and went faster and farther the wrong way.
How often do we do that? Out of fear, out of frustration, out of shame, we often run faster and farther into our sin rather than being led out through truth and forgiveness. It is true that we cannot merit our forgiveness. It is given as a free gift. While we do not earn it, we also ought not run from it because it does bring about new life.
Through truth to freedom. Through forgiveness to new life.
But we want to go the other way. Any way but the cross, right? Any way other than a death to self and familiar patterns of power.
But Christ shows us and tells us that there is no other way through it.
Nina Simone — the greatest in my book — was a Pastor’s Kid. Her mom was a Methodist minister. She started playing piano at age three. She says that she is not a jazz musician or a soul musician–though she is the High Priestess of Soul–but that she is a Black Classical musician. Her contralto voice and her love of J.S. Bach created something new and powerful that has yet to be matched. One doesn’t just listen to Nina Simone’s voice and music, one feels it. Sorry, that’s trite. But damn if it isn’t true. Her music is beautiful, raw, deep, and stark. She does not pull punches. She does not make it easy.
Mississippi Goddamn. She means every word — and takes those words seriously. It’s an echo, intentional or not, of Psalm 22: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
“Mississippi Goddamn” was written after the brutal death of Medgar Evers and the bombing of a Church in Birmingham, killing 4 young black girls. In it, she retells the way the Civil Rights Movement was told to “Do It Slow”.
Lord have mercy on a dominant culture that repeats that chorus: do it slow.
I lament that this song is still so very relevant and yet I’m glad for it’s lament, it’s call to something else, what that is remains to be seen, but I pray that it is not done too slow.