Around the web and within communities of Friends, Quakers are responding to the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial, in which Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., on February 26, 2012. Zimmerman was found not guilty and the verdict announced on July 13, 2013.
Back in November 2012, Lucy Duncan, the Friends Liaison at American Friends Service Committee, wrote a reflection for Friends Journal called Why I Work for Social Justice and Healing:
When Trayvon Martin was murdered in Florida recently, I thought of my students and how much things haven’t changed, how much things have gotten worse in some ways. Incarceration rates have skyrocketed, public schools are being dismantled, and the middle class is shrinking. … I understand much more now how important culturally responsive instruction is, how important it is to teach the history of resistance. … I understand how I am connected to George Zimmerman’s fear and Trayvon Martin’s mother’s pain. I understand that until all children are safe, no one is really safe.
Lynching By Any Other Name, by Quaker blogger Charley Earp:
At the root of this verdict is a new category of laws called “stand your ground” which have been enacted in several states, often with the backing of ALEC, a right-wing organization dedicated to rewriting legislation across the nation that weakens civil rights for all citizens, not just Blacks. We now know enough about the SYG laws to condemn their result as giving rise to a new wave of lynchings in the name of protecting white privilege. A state with SYG laws in place will have over 100% more not guilty verdicts for white murders of black men than other states without comparable laws. That, my friends, is nothing less than lynching by another name. And, it smells fouler than death itself.
I am George Zimmerman: White Privilege, Accountability, and Dog-Walking, by Kevin Griffin Moreno:
Structural racism affects all of us. Those of us who enjoy white privilege are complicit in it to varying degrees, but we’re all accountable. If I enjoy white privilege, it doesn’t matter whether I choose to think of myself as a “good person;” it’s not about that. It doesn’t matter whether or not I feel “white guilt;” it’s not about that, either. What matters, I think, is that I honestly consider my own role in perpetuating or reducing racism, and then—here’s the important part—do something more than changing my Twitter icon.
Martin Kelley, Friends Journal Senior Editor, wrote of “Georges and Trayvons” in his personal blog:
The work that needs to be done—or continued, for we need to remember the many times people have done the right thing—couldn’t be answered by a criminal trial anyway. What’s needed is the education of society at large.
One step is all of the conversations taking place on Facebook and around water coolers this week. Let’s talk about the fears that subconsciously drive us. For Zimmerman’s gun was only one of the triggers that killed Martin. It was fear that gave us Sanford’s gated community and its town watch, along with our nation’s permissive gun laws and draconian legal concepts like “standing one’s ground.” It was that potent mix of suspicion that set in motion a situation that left a seventeen-year-old kid with a pocketful of Skittles lying dead face down in the grass.
In “White Privilege: Reflections after the George Zimmerman verdict,” Quaker and Buddhist Tenzing Chödrön writes:
But being able to walk down a street at night without being shot because your skin color makes you appear “suspicious” shouldn’t be a privilege. It should be the norm. Being able to walk into a store and not having the manager tail you should be the norm. Being able to get a job based on your qualifications and not your skin color or sex or etc. should be the norm. Being able to live in any neighborhood you can afford without being given sham excuses about why you can’t live there should be the norm. Everyone should be able to live the life a male, straight, white, able-bodied, etc. American can live.
Quaker healer Niyonu Spann writes, in “Dis-Heartened: on recognizing the disease that killed Trayvon“:
Bottom line is: all our sons and daughters have the right TO BE…TO FULLY BE…TO LIVE and each one of them deserves to have that right protected.
Instead of treasuring, embracing, or even allowing our son’s and daughter’s living, this verdict confirmed a continued disregard and further indicates a full-blown disease running through this society…a cancer destroying vital organs completely oblivious to the unavoidable fact that in so doing, it is killing itself.
“I am George Zimmerman: Getting past denial so we can begin to heal,” writes AFSC Friends Liaison Lucy Duncan in a post-verdict update:
The thing that’s been the most difficult for me since the George Zimmerman verdict was announced has been the justifications and defensiveness coming from white folk. I get it—I was once so deep in the insane rationality of white privilege that I did it, too (sometimes still do). But more than anything else that defensiveness, that sense that we/I am “too good” to have done any harm is what gets in the way of healing.
“Oh what sorrow! oh, what pity! That tears and blood should mix like rain and terror come again”: reflections on Trayvon Martin, by Anthony Manousos, a Quaker peace activist, writer, and teacher:
We are called now to seek and dig out the roots of racism in exploitation and super-exploitation, in the divisiveness intentionally fostered by the few in order to divert the righteous anger of the masses, in capitalism itself.
We are called now to seek another way of living, one in which love, instead of money, is the currency of society. One without exploitation, in which goods are produced to be shared as needed, not to be sold for profit. One in which, in the words of Amos, our people “shall rebuild the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink their wine; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.”
And here’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Quaker editorial cartoonist Signe Wilkinson:
Abington Friends School’s Head of School, Rich Nourie, wrote an email to the AFS community regarding a Trayvon Martin Meeting for Worship to be held in Abington, Pa., on July 16, 2013:
As a community committed to active peacemaking, a time like this calls us to connection and reflection. We can strengthen each other in developing deeper understanding, compassion and appropriate action by coming together at a trying time.
In a follow-up email to Friends Journal, Nourie continued:
A Meeting following the Trayvon Martin verdict felt especially important knowing that it was something that was deeply painful and troubling for so many at a time, summer, when we don’t have the regular routines of school to bring us together.
At this time, two dimensions of our Friends spiritual practice seemed particularly relevant to me. First, our practice of silent worship is contemplative at heart, an opportunity for pain and suffering to be met by the Light within. In the wellspring of spirit at our center, we have an opportunity to encounter the deep reality of peace, love, strength, perspective, and compassion that is always present to us. In times of deep distress, it is good for us as a community to be able to open ourselves to be reminded and encouraged by each other in this larger reality.
Second, ours is a discernment tradition and Meeting for Worship offers an opportunity to reflect on the key question of “How am I called to respond?” We are so diverse in our gifts. In the urgency many of us feel at the injustice of the killing of an innocent young man, it is right to take time to discern what is the call to action for each of us. We are all called to play a part in building a more just and peaceful world and those roles range widely among us. Our gifts together, completed with God’s grace, make the work possible.
While all of this is true, what we experienced at last Tuesday’s Meeting for Worship was each other at a time of vulnerability, anger, fear, outrage, and sadness. The silence offered a place to be with each other, and spoken testimony helped all of us to better understand the collective experience and meaning throughout this diverse gathering of Meeting members, students, parents, faculty, and staff. I was grateful to hear the honest reflections of those who spoke and grateful too for the gift of silence. While I’m sure I knew it going in, I was humbled too to see that this experience and its ongoing challenge to so many of us, of course, far transcends an individual Meeting for Worship. I believe many us left the time together thankful for the opportunity of silent worship, but still unsettled, appropriate to the work that needs to be done.
Your correspondent attended the Abington Trayvon Martin Meeting for Worship on July 16, and heard from AFS math teacher Wayne Kurtz:
As I reflect on the Trayvon Martin case, I’m reminded of a story from childhood where my adoptive father helped to protect and guide me from a potentially bad situation involving a racist comment from a group of white children at the Jersey shore. I believe this instance has informed the advice I now give to my students and to my children: “walk away from danger, when you sense something is wrong.”
In a follow-up conversation, Kurtz went on:
Just last week, I was on the AFS soccer field playing with a group of students when a stranger drove by and shouted an offensive word at us from his car. This is a good example of when you’re provoked, you become reactionary and you get defensive. In this case, I really had to think about my actions before saying something in response that might have made matters worse.
When you’re in a certain mentoring position, such as a teacher or a coach, it’s important to be careful about what we say and how we act so that we don’t pass down these stereotypes and hasty behaviors to younger generations. I believe that if you’re threatened in some way, and this is hard, but you can empower yourself to confront the issue in constructive ways, using thoughtful words to begin a dialogue with the other person.
I don’t consider myself to be Quaker, but I am adopting some aspects of Quakerism, such as the power of nonviolence… I find myself wondering “why in the world do we need guns?”
Photo of New York City rally 7/14/13 courtesy flickr/fleshmanpix (CC BY-NC 2.0)