A young man, an African American 17 year old young man, was walking home from the store, during a time when people walked their dogs and did their evening jog. He was shot by a man who, when he called the police dispatcher,was told to stay in the car. This made sense because he was a part of neighborhood watch, not security or law enforcement.
When I heard the verdict, I was angry, disillusioned, disgusted,but not surprised. The Scottsboro Boys, Emmitt Till, and personal incidents of racial indignities flashed in my mind. A segment of this country still doesn't believe, after decades of empirical evidence, that these incidents continue to happen. In listening to the national interview of juror B37, for example, we see that the victim often is viewed with a level of blame equal to or greater than the perpetrator. This points to the composition of the jury, which in my mind put victory in the hands of the defense before the trial began.The post-racial society that media convinces us is real is but a rigged shell game. The truth is, as of this writing, there exist several cases that but for some additional publicity,would trouble our national consciousness as the death of Trayvon Martin has done. And this particular case needed a national public outcry in order for George Zimmerman to even be arrested for murder on April 11, months after the incident that happened on February 26.
The reality is that racial profiling exists. National, state and local studies over the last ten years prove that judgment based on the color of one's skin is alive and well. From West Virginia, Illinois, and New York City, African Americans find themselves subjected to more stops and searches than whites. On theother side of this same coin, due to societal realities and our own devalued sense of ourselves, several of our communities have become killing fields, with many of us being held hostage.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy out of this verdict is since 1955, employees have had raises and cost of living increases, and the minimum wage has gone up several times, but the societal value of a Black man's life remains the same. Let dogfights happen in a home you own? Go to jail. But get caught 'breathing while black' in the wrong place? We will be talking about you in the past tense. As the perpetrator,you will receive a 'get of of jail free' card. The judge after your acquittal tells you that your gun, the murder weapon, will be given back to you.
In viewing this landscape, I'm reminded of King Jehoshaphat in 2Chronicles 20. He and the kingdom of Judah find themselves in a potential waragainst superior forces. What do they do? By verse 4 they gathered from acrossJudah while fasting and paused to hear from God.
Think about how far we've come, and think about Who brought us this far. In recent years, with increased freedom, we have tended to forget about the One who made our victories possible. Even in the aftermath of this tragedy, the vast infrastructure in African American life remains anchored in the church. The church encourages us, molds us, and sometimes disappoints us, butit is God's vehicle for connection, empowerment, and transformation.
The last key comes in the following passage, found in verses15-17: "He said: “Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and youwill find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’ ” We can get two things from this text. One, God will fight your battles. Even in this dark hour, God hasn't left us. The second is less obvious, but very present. Notice the word the people receive from the Lord. Although the battle belongs to God,and they wont have to fight, they must still show up! They are to dress,position themselves and be ready.
We have 'stand your ground' laws in 22 states, including Tennessee. We must dress, position ourselves against these laws, and be ready.The 16th largest economy, by spending, exists in Black America. Why can't we harness our consumerism into an economic powerhouse? The killing fields in our communities will change because of our efforts. We must dress, position ourselves and be ready. The systemic poisons designed to kill us must be quarantined.We must dress, position ourselves and be ready, and when we trust and allow God to then do what we can't, we will see the conceptual valuation of a Black life become much more precious and respected.
Rev. Dr. Noel G. L. Hutchinson,Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church, Lauderdale in Memphis, Tennessee.
The views expressed are those of the author.