Trayvon Martin Case Calls for Peacemaking for Racial Justice
The not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and reactions to that verdict laid bare yet again our nation’s longstanding racial schisms and struggle with affording everyone equal protection under the law. Opinions on the case cross the spectrum, but this is apparent: the rights to freedom of movement in public areas and self-defense when in fear for one’s life did not apply to Trayvon Martin.
In the wake of the verdict, many are calling for action, including:
- The U.S. Justice Department to investigate if George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin and violated his civil rights in an extrajudicial killing.
- The overturn or amending of Stand Your Ground laws, inflated self-defense measures that, among other things, do not require individuals to retreat or avoid a violent confrontation when possible.
- Examination of public policies that disproportionately target brown and black communities, particularly the males, for the harshest punishments available from grade-school suspensions to police stops and arrests to criminal prosecution to judicial sentencing—policies that have resulted in the United States having the world’s highest incarceration rates and skewed the representation of brown and black individuals in U.S. jails and prisons.
The Trayvon Martin killing and verdict happened in the context of a continuum of policies and rulings that are negatively impacting communities of color. The common thread through them all is the need for Americans to address the status of racial justice in our nation. As women organized for mission with women, children and youth, as an organization committed to racial justice and peacemaking for nearly 150 years, United Methodist Women must show up for this critical dialogue.
The election of the first African American U.S. president in 2008 has led some to declare a national victory over racism and conclude that the United States has become a post-racial society. This has made it even more difficult to have needed discussion about race and racism—but it has not precluded racism and its multilayered impacts. Through mission education and leadership development programs, United Methodist Women members have learned the importance of thinking critically and asking questions like, who benefits from this policy? We have learned the importance of actively listening to people who are not in the majority—and believing and honoring their testimony about their own life experiences. We have learned to disagree with civility.
These are vital skills for the conversation that our nation needs to have at this pivotal juncture on our journey to become a more perfect union.
Even with these skills, the discussion about racial justice, injustice and divisions is hard and many will no doubt be tempted to avoid it by any means necessary including denial, blaming those harmed most by racism or naming those who urge us to broach this painful topic as “race baiters” or worse. But Jesus did not proclaim a special blessing on peacemakers and call them children of God (Matthew 5:9) because it’s easy to do. Peacemakers do not ignore conflict or injustice, pretend it doesn’t exist or choose willful ignorance. Rather they acknowledge it and take action to address it. That’s hard work; peacemakers need a blessing.
Peacemakers also need tools for the job. Over the next few weeks United Methodist Women will provide resources for members and others who are committed to engaging in constructive discussion about race in their homes, churches and communities on the state of racial justice in the United States. Accompanying United Methodist Women’s ongoing series of statements on the current state of racial inequality in the United States will be excerpts from the “Justice for Trayvon Action Kit” assembled by our partner organization, Showing Up for Racial Justice.
This action kit will give you and your community some of the tools to begin and continue deepening your work on racial justice.
You can begin your conversation with an excerpt of the toolkit that asks you to write a message and snap a photo. Please see attached section of the toolkit for more details.
Let us know how you are using the materials in your communities at JRosheuvel@unitedmethodistwomen.org.
Justice for Trayvon Action Kit: 15 Minute Action
Created by Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) a coalition partner of United Methodist Women.
15 Minute Action: Write a Message and Snap a Photo
We are not Trayvon Martin: Spend a few minutes writing about how you have benefited from your whiteness. This can be in terms of education, housing, medical care, travel, police conduct, etc. Post it with your photo at http://wearenottrayvonmartin.com/.
About Showing Up For Racial Justice (from their website)
Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) was formed in 2009 by white people from across the US to respond to the significant increase of targeting and violence against people of color in the aftermath of the election of Barack Obama. The case of George Zimmerman is the latest in a long series of extrajudicial (outside the law) killings of people of color in the United States. We mourn the loss of life, see the impact on communities of color and believe that white people must partner across race and other differences to create social change. SURJ is here to provide resources and support for white people to make this happen.
We look to each other to change the world we live in one conversation and action at a time, and our efforts are to build a broad and deep movement of engaged white people to work in partnership with communities of color for real racial justice in the US and everywhere. Please join us as we build on a long tradition of white people engaged in racial justice work in our local communities, our states, and around the world.
SURJ is a national network of white groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability. We work to connect people across the country while supporting and collaborating with local and national racial justice organizing efforts. SURJ provides a space to build relationships, skills, and political analysis to act for change.
Thanks to Dara Silverman, Meta Mendel-Reyes, Jason Wallach, Anna Stitt, JLove Calderon, Bernie Schlotfeldt, Pam Nath, Carla Wallace, Z! Haukeness, Nikki Morse, Becky Rafter, Janis Rosheuvel, Joseph Phelan, Cynthia Newcomer and all of the artists and writers who contributed.