Archdiocese of Chicago

Catholic Chicago Blog

Monday, July 29, 2013

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

By Sr. Anita Baird, DHM

It has been two weeks since the Trayvon Martin verdict. It will no doubt go down in history as one of those “where were you moments,” like the assassinations of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the OJ verdict or Nine Eleven.

It was a moment in time when as a nation we were once again reminded that while we have come a long way in the last fifty years in race relations, we have not become a post-racial society, far from it.

Once again America’s view of the verdict was almost evenly divided along racial lines. The white community overwhelmingly believing that race had little or nothing to do with the incident or the verdict while the black community overwhelmingly believed that this was a case of racial profiling that resulted in the death of an unarmed teenager returning home after going to the store in the community where his father lived to buy a bag of Skittles and an ice tea.

We will never know the whole story. What we do know, however, is that too many young people of color are dying on our streets every day because society has given up on them. Their lives do not hold the same value as their white counterparts. They are seen merely as statistics and not as individuals; as people to be feared, contained, detained and even destroyed.

Trayvon Martin is dead today because George Zimmerman did not see a young teenager minding his own business walking home that fateful night. What George Zimmerman saw was a “thug” in a hoody, who had no right to be in the community. While I do not believe that it was George Zimmerman’s intent to kill Trayvon Martin, society’s indifference, the portrayal of young black men in the media, the violence in the streets of the inner cities, all played a part in setting the stage for that fateful night.

Society has written them off along with the communities where they live. Our educational system has failed them. The prison complex system has become the new school system for hundreds of thousands of black teenage boys and young men.

Systemic racism should have been on trial with George Zimmerman. Four hundred years of racial injustice should have been on trial. Young black men in America have always been perceived as a threat…a threat that must be eliminated.

That is why it was easier for some of the jurors in the Zimmerman trial to relate to George Zimmerman than to Trayvon Martin. They did not feel threatened by Zimmerman. They saw their son, brother, and neighbor, who had the right to “stand his ground” in the face of the “threat” that Trayvon Martin posed just by his mere presence.

Trayvon’s parents knew this reality only too well. Most of the jurors couldn’t possibly understand what it felt like to stand in their shoes, to view their son as one of their own. Trayvon’s voice was not only silenced by death but by hundreds of years of black invisibility in America.

If only we could believe that Trayvon’s blood was not shed in vain. That black-on-black crime would end; that America would find the courage to have an honest conversation about race and racism in this country—a disease that is destroying this nation; and that we would judge every human being by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

Trayvon’s death will not be in vain if we work to change faulty laws like “stand your ground.” Trayvon’s death will not be in vain when every life is valued, respected and protected without exception.

Where do we go from here?

We must first turn to God. We must acknowledge our complicity in the sin of racism, whether it is overt or covert, ask for forgiveness and repent.

Our churches must stop being squeamish about speaking about racism from the pulpit for the truth will set us free.

We must elect political leaders who will passionately enact laws that will insure justice for all members of society; the poor, the immigrant, and people of color equally.

We must have honest conversations about racism in our homes, schools, workplaces and churches.

We must stop judging and profiling young men of color.

We must peacefully take to the streets and demonstrate to end all forms of violence and injustice wherever it exists.

We must lobby for family services, head start programs, better schools, healthcare, jobs, and housing in poor communities.

Next month we will commemorate the Fiftieth Anniversary of the March on Washington. Dr. King’s dream has yet to become a reality. Many would contend that it has become a nightmare for the millions of men, women and children, who have been denied equal access to the quality of life. The African American community is under siege. Blood is flowing in our streets. The poverty and education gap continues to widen. When will it end? What is the solution?

In his speech, “Where Do We Go From Here?” Dr. King writes, “One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers [and sisters] or together we will be forced to perish as fools.”

We must remain awake. We must remain vigilant. We must work for change.

Justice for Trayvon will happen when every American, every human being is judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.

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