George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin: Justice vs. the Legal System

I woke this morning to the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial and not an ounce of surprise. I suppose that proves I am my mother's child. She was a black radical who insisted there was no such thing as justice in our judicial system. One definition of justice is "the quality of being fair and reasonable." Whereas the requirements for conviction in the George Zimmerman case (and let's remember it was the Zimmerman case, not the Martin case) was that it be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, not that he was responsible for the death of Martin, but that he intentionally and maliciously meant Martin lethal harm. Despite what millions who have no direct involvement or first-hand knowledge of the case "know," whether they know Zimmerman is guilty or innocent, the case rested solely on facts to ascertain his state of mind, and since no one was there to observe the altercation, it was improbable from the outset that he would be found guilty. In America the accused is guilty until proven innocent. If in France, where one is guilty until proven innocent, the outcome could have been quite different.

And this is why there is a substantive and profound difference between justice and our legal system. It is one of the reasons for the scripture: "There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?" James 4:12 (NRSV) Our laws and courts are in place to facilitate the functional operation of our society, not to provide restorative justice, the likes of which only God can truly provide. Yet we mistake a functional system for the divine one all the time. It's understandable.

The pain is so deep this time because to many this case was not just about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. It was about systemic inequity in American society. If you experience it, you probably know it exists. If you benefit from it, you probably will deny its widespread reality with your last breath. After all, it is not until you are deprived of something you took for granted, like the ability to go to the store for candy and walk back home without being murdered, that you realize the existence or preferential treatment. If you haven't been negatively impacted by systemic inequality, particularly the pernicious racism that plagues the U.S. uniquely because of our history of slavery, then what happened to Trayvon Martin may simply be an isolated "shame," and not a personal outrage.

Whatever the verdict of the George Zimmerman trial, it was never going to address the systemic racism and inequality, that bleeds through every aspect of our society. The only thing that was ever going to change that, that is ever going to change that, is us. But are we willing to put in the work? Schools achievement for African Americans is lower and neighborhoods are more racially segregated than they were before Brown vs. the Board of Education, yet still we look to the courts to fix both themselves and society of their systemic problems.

Are we willing to put in the long, unrewarding, back-breaking work of transforming ourselves and our society, instead of desperately needing a three week trial would strike a blow for us? God has asked us to care for the lost, least and left out, but in ancient days to now, it is the human condition that we look after ourselves first and most of all. We must love our neighbors as ourselves and, as Christ tells us, both Martin and Zimmerman are our neighbors. (Luke 10:25-37)

So, while the rage, confusion, sadness, indifference or smug satisfaction may be natural reactions, love is divine and the emotion and behavior to which we are called by God and must aspire at this time as in all times. Ask yourself, "What can I do to truly love Trayvon Martin? What can I do to love George Zimmerman?" And if either of those questions offend you or don't affect you, go back to the Lord in prayer and ask God to change your heart. Keep asking that question until you receive guidance from God. Then, let's get to work on changing our communities, society, nation, and world for the better.

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever- flowing stream. Amos 5:24 (NRSV)