This week, as I listened to different people, primarily white, urge people to “trust” the justice system, and to “wait” for the justice system to work in the Trayvon Martin case, I found myself wanting to cover my ears from the din of useless noise.
Useless noise is exactly what it sounded like, this plea for African-Americans to wait for the justice system to work, because the system has so seldom worked on behalf of black, brown and poor people in this nation.
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King talks about “the law,” and how there are just and unjust laws. It seems that white clergy were urging Dr. King to obey the law and to “wait for the justice system to work.” Dr. King pushed back, saying that “there are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.” I thought of the “stand your ground” law that is apparently protecting accused shooter George Zimmerman from being arrested. Truly, that law is just on its face, but it seems like it was unjustly applied in this case.
Dr. King talks about what is “legal,” in his discussion of just and unjust laws. The white clergy were accusing Dr. King of breaking the law, and therefore doing something illegal. Again, Dr. King pushed back, writing, “We can never forget that everything Hitler did in German was legal and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid a Jew in Hitler’s Germany,” he wrote. If, I thought, Trayvon was the aggressor in this case, according to Florida law, he would have been breaking the law, and would have put himself in the position of having to be fought off.
But it just doesn’t seem that that scenario is correct…and it seemed, as I listened to white people urge others to be calm and obey the law and let the justice system work, that they were more concerned with “law and order” than they were, or are, concerned with justice. Said Dr. King: “the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice, who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action,’ who paternally feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom, who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to ‘wait until a more convenient season,” …is frustrating. He said people of good will who have such shallow understanding are more frustrating than people of ill will who have absolute, total misunderstanding.”
It is apparently very difficult for white Americans to understand the “souls” of black people in this nation, who have been so battered, and not bettered by, the justice system. There are reasons why the rage is so obvious about young Trayvon’s shooting and Zimmerman’s non-arrest. The reasons reach far back into our history; many of us have relatives who were abused by a justice system which never intended to exhibit justice toward them or their cases. And now, here in the 21st century, we find that really not all that much progress has been made.
Roland Martin, CNN commentator, said that if there are no protests, we cannot hope for justice. Had it not been for the bravery and tenacity of Trayvon’s parents, this case would have been swept under the rug with no mention; another young black male would simply have been buried…but Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents, sounded the battle cry, blew the trumpet, if you will. Their refusal to let their son die in vain reminded me of how Emmett Till‘s mother, Mamie, catapulted the national shame called lynching to international attention when she refused to let her son’s death be ignored.
Dr. King, in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.” He acknowledged that “few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.
Dr. King’s words, written in the mid 1960s, are just as appropriate today. The demonstrations against what appears to be gross injustice in the Trayvon Martin case must continue …or else, there will be no justice.
A candid observation…
8 thoughts on “Dr. King and the Trayvon Martin Case”
A very powerful comparison between King’s words about the “be patient” mood of white America in the 1960’s and the contemporary mood of white America today! Thank you.
Thanks for reading the piece!
As always, you are right on point. We needed a reminder, from Dr. King, that we need to be vigilant of laws that are passed, even more vigilant of how they are applied and vocal when they lead to injustice.
Thank you, Rev. LaRita. This whole thing is bothering me more than I thought it would. I appreciate your taking the time to read my piece and comment.
The struggle continues …
My church, Advent United Church of Christ, 2303 N. Cassady Ave, Columbus Ohio will be hosting a rally for Treyvon Martin on the date of Martin Luther Kings assassination. I must say that I am proud to be a member of THIS church. Why? Because I have had misguided interpretations of a lot of things from religion to race and I must say this church not only gets me thinking but allows me to do so outside of the box.
I have been a victim of racism and racial profiling. My heart felt it to be that and my mind thought it to be that when the dehumanizing events occurred. It is one of the few things that my heart and mind agree upon. Usually I over think situations such as these and dismiss what my heart is so desperately crying for, JUSTICE, because I don’t want to be the one to speak up or out, the one to cause another ripple in already troubles waters. These particular waters being racism and one of its ugly components, racial profiling.
One year prior to Dr. Kings assassination he delivered a speech at Riverside Church in New York. The speech was titled Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break The Silence. It’s a powerful speech. So much to ponder over. Now we are and have been engaged in another war, the war in Iraq. And I can’t help but to see how not much has changed and how much of Dr. Kings speech then, can be applied today.
Our black men are still being fooled. Black and white men fight together in Iraq but black men come home to their brothers of color, being beaten or in some cases gunned down by those commissioned to protect and serve. We are still dishing out money for the Iraq war as if America’s poverty and unemployment are declining rapidly. The armed forces promises training for lucrative jobs after completion of military service. Why then are so many military soldiers unemployed? And is it just me but why when troops come home are pictures taken and posted in papers, magazines, on the Internet, on television of white soldiers being embraced by spouses, family members and such? Hello! Why is American History still being taught with a white American theme in our schools, mostly the public schools where student populations are equal to the caucasian population or the schools are predominantly black? Black men are not considered equals; neither are black women. Why are we still being thought of, perceived as lazy, illiterate, much to about nothings in a country where blacks have contributed to its growth in as much as its proclaimed founding for fathers. I am convicted to say, the church that I am a member of is full of black professionals with doctorates, masters, bachelors in many areas. Members with flourishing businesses, published books, and yes home owners. Many who have captured the American dream, some still in pursuit of it and determined to be apart of ‘the dream’ only to be reminded that the dream is still encased within the nightmare of racism.
Its like biting into a perfectly cooked brat. It’s not until you break the casing, sink your teeth into it, do you get the juices, the flavor of what you know to expect. Treyvon Martins’ death, how it happen, why it happened, is an example of that casing. Blacks will never be allowed to eat at freedoms table, until the manipulation of freedom by white officials is stopped. Which means the skin of racism must be broken, bitten into, peeled back, looked at for what it truly is, a nightmare encasing a dream.
Dr. King waited two years before speaking about the Vietnam injustices, My first bout with racism occurred 28 years ago. I have been personally targeted with racial slurs, racial profiling more than once in those 28 years. I have been silent for far too long, as I have listen to and have taken the advise of white and black friends, ‘oh just ignore it, it’s just words, they’d say.’
It’s unfortunate but it is my reality that it took a cry for help from a 17 year old black male struggling against incredible odds to maintain his life, die as a result of what started out as racial profiling in order for me to break my silence.
I was all of 10 months old when Dr. King delivered his speech at Riverside church. One would think that the elimination of racism would be farther along today then it was then. As I see it the land of equal opportunity has not advance much ‘Beyond Vietnam.’ It is not enough to accept or settle for some change, we must seek total change.
Thank you Pastor Smith for your candid observations on this matter. Thank you for Sundays sermon. Your sermon supports what Dr. King was convicted to say then. That Molotov cocktails, physical retaliation, and character defamation, only fuel and promote injustice, and silence is betrayal. Not only to our race, our country but to God. We must fight injustice the way God commands us to do so. Conforming to God standards not mans.
See you at the rally Wednesday.
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