By Starlette McNeill
Not guilty. This is the verdict in the murder trial of George Zimmerman concerning the death of 17-year-old high school student Trayvon Martin.
While I am surprised that he was not found to be at fault for any of his actions on Feb. 26, 2012, I am hopeful that this demonstration of social justice offers for us — by this I mean those who are not closely related to either Mr. Martin or Mr. Zimmerman as they are involved in their own grieving processes for which this reflection at this time is not appropriate — an occasion to reflect on the justice of God.
My faith tells me that only this justice, from the One who knows exactly what happened on that dreadful, life-changing and death-wielding rainy night, will satisfy our longing for rightness. And for some of us, justice was done, and it was believed to be God’s justice.
Today, I wish that Mr. Zimmerman would have followed instructions, done as he was told, listened to the voice of a stranger on the other end of the telephone line and stayed in his car. If he had, Mr. Martin would have made it home to enjoy the teenage delicacies of candy and a beverage. But, Mr. Zimmerman did not, and as a result, he will have to live with the decisions that he made that night, decisions that have changed his life and ended the life of Mr. Martin.
But, I believe that we, too, have a decision to make. We, as believers, who may believe that Mr. Zimmerman is an enemy — whether personal, social or cultural, a threat to so-called black men or socially constructed black life — must choose to love our enemy. And in so doing, forgive him. We must not forgive him because it is the right thing to do. We must forgive him because he is our neighbor and God’s creature.
Frankly, I can’t help but see myself as an enemy of Mr. Zimmerman as well and wonder how my own prejudicial thinking and stereotyping has contributed to this racialized society. How have my words and actions contributed to a society in which Mr. Zimmerman felt empowered to pursue another on the basis of his prejudicial assumptions?
What scenarios did I create during the trial that painted a picture of Mr. Zimmerman that were rooted in racism’s history and not his reality? I am not innocent and yet, I have escaped a guilty verdict. It is for this reason that I need him to forgive me as well.
I believe it is not justice, at least not our prescription of it, that he needs. I assure you that no matter the verdict, you or I would not have been satisfied. This is why the Bible teaches us that “vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Romans 12.19).
We must not take revenge because we do not know how to render justice and are biased in our delivery of it. We are influenced by America’s slave history, our personal and cultural experiences and our racial/prejudicial biases. We do not know how much to give or when to stop. Revenge is never satisfied, and there is always room for more.
So, I am praying for the parents of Mr. Martin for whom I can offer no words of solace save those of our great Christ: “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet will he live” (John 11.25). I don’t know how they are feeling because I have never lost a son, but God has and it is to God that I turn for wisdom.
This is also why I can and do pray for Mr. Zimmerman, whose feelings I cannot share in as a murderer, but I have lied and cheated and stole, so we are in the same lot as sinners. For him and for me, I offer the prayer of Christ, but this time as a dying man, convicted and sentenced to death without a trial: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23.34). Amen.