Race Ipsum Loquitor: Reaching Common Ground In The Martin/Zimmerman Case

546575_3674462585379_988285994_nAs an apostle, I wrote “Turning The World Upside Down: The Social Call Of The Apostolic” for a five-volume apostolic anthology recently released by Kingdom House Publishing. In that work, I make the following statement: “The call to reconciliation has many different facets, as reconciliation relates to people. Reconciliation is a part of healing ministry, although it is different from traditional concepts of healing. While many apostles may walk in a gift that enables them to heal others physically by the power of God and faith, reconciliation heals people in ways that are not always so visible. It does relate to unity within the church. We should not, however, assume it stops there. It also relates to the issues that divide humanity, which are found in the world at large. Reconciliation bridges the gaps created by sin, and the result of those gaps, as they form through evils, abuses, wrongs, and injustices. The apostle is called to stand as an agent of justice, a representative of God’s order in social matters. They are called to be advocates of truth in every arena. As part of the apostle’s social call, they are called to bring people together, and bring healing to the rivalries and rifts that damage relationship. Apostles do not have the right, nor option, to be racial bigots. The apostle is called to go wherever God sends them, to any and all people, and for any and all purposes. Ethnic hostilities must cease in the presence of a true apostle’s work. Knowing God calls all nations and people to be in relationship with Him (Psalm 67:3-4, Psalm 68:32, Psalm 96:3), the apostle fosters relationship with as many diverse people as possible. When someone or something is being unjustly persecuted, the apostle is called to stand for God’s truth in that situation.” (Aligning With The Apostolic: An Anthology of Apostleship, Vol. 2: Apostles And The Apostolic Movement In The Seven Mountains Of Culture, “Turning The World Upside Down: The Social Call of The Apostolic by Dr. Lee Ann B. Marino, pp. 293-294) I had no idea when I wrote those words in October of 2012 how relevant they would be when the anthology was released a few weeks ago. The various tensions which have erupted as result of the Trayvon Martin murder trial make the words relevant to all of us who are in the Body of Christ, but most especially, to those who are leaders. We are called to make a stand and to stand for what is true in this situation. In that effort, I want to write about the case both as an apostle and as one who worked as a legal secretary and one who continues to do all my own legal representation, to this very day. It is a part of my call to make a statement, to bring clarity and understanding, because that is what I am here to do.

I wrestled with writing this because I do not want to behave in any manner that would assume me to be out of place. I intend no disrespect in this work whatsoever. I will outright say that I have no idea what it is like to be a black woman, with black sons and daughters, experiencing the sting of racism against that specific race in the United States. I do, however, know what it is like to experience prejudice, and I do know what it is like to be profiled. I’m not just an apostle; I am also a woman. Any woman who is called to any office in the five-fold ministry has experienced both profiling and prejudice. In fact, I’d venture that most Christian women have experienced profiling at some point in time, as we are told what our place is and harassed or rebuked when we dare to do something that is not in our place. I’ve had plenty of men, both in the secular and church world, tell me where I could go, what I could do, or what or what was appropriate or inappropriate for me simply because I am a woman. That’s a lousy feeling, if you’ve experienced it: it is the message that being a woman makes me inferior. Being a woman is not something I can control, it is something that just is, and sexism is prejudice. When I was a kid, I watched my mother, already a battered woman, experience prejudice at the hands of the judicial system by judges who were known to hate women, and who expressed bias because my father was the town justice for a little hole in the wall. Somehow his position made it impossible for her to even find an attorney who would speak to her within an hour and a half of where she lived – and made it so any equitable justice in her divorce was impossible.

I am also a woman of Italian-American ancestry, whose immigrant relatives dealt with and encountered prejudice and injustice as a way of life. (People assume I am white but honestly, thanks to my genetics, we’re not sure what I am – LOL.) Under the rule of FDR, Italians were banned from the United States for ten years, and also received the lowest pay grade in the United States – lower than the Irish, the Chinese, and yes, even the blacks (Richard Gambino, “Blood Of My Blood: The Dilemma Of The Italian Americans,” 1991). Even though people often cannot tell my ancestry due to a very rare genetic condition that causes me to be as white in coloring as I am, when I was younger and still had more pigmentation, I was referred to by racial epithets geared at Italians. It’s not a good feeling to feel profiled; to be called out by something that is beyond anyone’s control or doing, and made to feel inferior based on that singular characteristic.

I’ve also witnessed racism just by being alive: Oneonta, New York (where I lived for 25 years) had an active Klan until the 1970s, burning crosses on integrated church lawns. In 1992, Oneonta, New York made the national news due to a SUNY Oneonta college student’s attack on a 77-year old woman. The woman described the assailant as black and carrying a knife, to which the police responded by creating a list of black college males at the school and interrogating, harassing, and accusing them. It turned out, in the end, that the assailant was a white fraternity boy – not a black male, as had been stated. (http://www.nytimes.com/1992/09/27/nyregion/college-town-in-uproar-over-black-list-search.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm)My older sister was denied access to a swimming pool as a child because she was so dark. Owensboro, Kentucky, where I lived from 2007-2009, remains segregated, to this very day. When I discovered one of the outlying country funeral parlors refused to service blacks because they’d have to buy make-up in order to do so, I was the one that blew the whistle to the local chapter of the ACLU. When I’ve been in certain cities in the “deep south” with people of different ethnic backgrounds, people will stare or make comments. Even here, in North Carolina (where I have lived since 2009), Raleigh of which is rather integrated for a southern city, outlying cities will still pull blacks over for no good reason except to hustle and harass them. I know of numerous stories in which black churches were protested or blocked from going into neighborhoods, and situations where churches have been raided and harassed during services by cops who enter, guns drawn, to hand out citations during Sunday morning worship.

I’m in these churches, too. The majority of churches I’ve preached in over the past year are inner-city churches, complete with bars on the windows. God’s promise to me is to give me property in every city in which I go to – not every suburb or outlying area. My ministries will be located in these areas where needs exist and the Gospel must be preached. When the cops decide to raid the building, the odds are good I will be there, too. If the cops decide to pull someone over due to race, the odds are good I may be in that car. When we move into the neighborhood, it may very well be my integrated church that they decide to pick on and harass. I could do the funeral of any woman’s child who dies as the result of prejudice or injustice. This case, the reasons behind this case, are as much a part of my reality as they are a part of anyone’s reality. For that reason, I care, as all of us doing Kingdom work should.

Biases exist. I’ve heard many people argue that bringing race into the case is starting trouble. That is an unfair statement, simply because race is an underlying issue that exists in many situations, and is especially prominent in certain regions of the United States. Even though the individual who makes the statement may not be a racist, pretending racial issues do not exist is not practical, nor is it pragmatic. I believe in praying for peace, as I am sure many of you can witness. I do not believe, however, that praying for peace is going to magically make all of our racial issues in the United States vanish or make race irrelevant to this case. To understand the basics of this case, we must start with the fact that, yes, race was relevant in the case. It was a part of the underlying agenda, underlying motives as voiced by Zimmerman himself on the 911 call. I can’t ignore this fact; therefore, it is relevant not just to me, but to all of us examining this situation. Beyond this, we need to examine the cold, hard facts of the case in order to understand the truth of the matter and come to a place of common ground – where instead of ignoring the racism present and the racism present in the United States, we can understand why we need to come together as one (beginning with the church) and stand against the wrongs that are inevitably coming.

The legal system has a term: Race ipsum loquitor. It means “the facts speak for themselves.” This means that there are legal cases in which the facts of the situation are self-evident and, therefore, their own evidence. I believe the essence of the legalities of this case lie in race ipsum loquitor.

Fact #1: An unarmed teenager was killed by a man over legal age.

Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman. That fact is not in dispute. Trayvon Martin is now dead, and George Zimmerman faced trial with charges spanning from Murder in the Second Degree, to Manslaughter, to Acquittal. Acquittal means the individual did not, in actuality, kill someone. All other charges, including Manslaughter, indicate that the other party was killed, albeit by accident. For Zimmerman to have received Acquittal, that indicates the jury – and the law – do not recognize Zimmerman as having killed Martin.

This is, in and of itself, a travesty of justice because every one of us knows from the facts of this case that Zimmerman killed Martin. Trayvon Martin was an underage male without a gun – who was unarmed. That means Zimmerman had no reason to fear for his life because Zimmerman was, himself, in fact armed. And, given he was the one with the gun, Zimmerman is the one who killed Martin. Thus, given this fact – Zimmerman should have received a sentence that was not Acquittal, because he did shoot Martin – and admittedly so.

The verdict, therefore, was totally unjust.

Fact #2: Racial epithet invoked by Zimmerman was recorded on the 911 call.

The Bible tells us: “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37, NIV). Zimmerman himself used a certain derogatory term when he called 911. Magically, now, this fact that was formerly quite clear has suddenly become muddled due to enhanced audio manipulation. It is my own belief that what it first sounded like is, indeed what was said; the fact that it was altered makes me highly suspicious. The altered version does not fit the conversation, nor the surrounding discussion of the call. Using an epithet is not acceptable – and means that race was indeed a relevant factor in the case.

Fact #3: Zimmerman was explicitly told by police to stop following Martin, and chose to ignore that.

Zimmerman played vigilante with a gun. There’s no other way to put it. He also defied order and authority, which wasn’t a stupid thing to do, it was a rebellious thing to do. Right there, that bespeaks that Zimmerman moved forward with his own intentions and motives. Whether the motive was racial, to be macho, or any combination of the two – Zimmerman did not do what he was told. According to law, that makes him legally liable for any results of his own actions (i.e., killing Martin because he was specifically told by law enforcement to refrain from pursuit). It is also relevant that Martin was a minor at the time of the incident, thereby making Zimmerman the responsible party to execute and obey the obligations of the law. If a fight or scuffle ensued, it ensued because Zimmerman did not follow the instructions of officers; thus he was the instigator, following Martin against advice, and the aggressor of any events that transpired thereafter.

Fact #4: Zimmerman’s father is a retired judge.

My memories of my mother’s divorce are highly reminiscent to me these days because the “good ol’ boy network” is alive and well, especially in smaller communities. The fact that his father is a retired judge automatically creates bias in the legal system within that area. That is part of the reason why Zimmerman was not arrested, nor tried, immediately. It also makes other factors in this case highly suspicious, such as the jury’s verdict (which I will discuss in a moment), the passing glances between Zimmerman and his attorneys, and the passing of items between those involved in his defense (possibly bribery). Since when in history has there ever been an all-female jury? Or a verdict that comes down and read at 10 PM on a Saturday night, especially after the jury was extremely divided on the sentencing? The “good ol’ boy network” is a facet of the justice system which keeps things tilted in the favor of those who want to have favor, and denies true justice to those who often need it the most. In other circumstances, the trial would have been moved to another state whereby the father’s influence would not have been had.

Case en Pointe: the Florida woman who used “Stand Your Ground” as a defense because she shot a gunshot into the air to scare off her abusive husband, who is now sentenced to twenty years. She was told this law “doesn’t apply” to her because she didn’t shoot him! Now let’s imagine if she had shot him – My guess would be, as is typical of battered women in the system, this abused woman would have still been told “Stand Your Ground” didn’t apply to her. We won’t even mention the fact that, given racial tensions and issues in Florida, this woman is also black – and, big surprise, the Florida legislature has found a way to treat her unfairly.

Fact #5: Stand Your Ground Law was inappropriately applied to this case.

According to Wikipedia, the Stand Your Ground law is as follows: “states that a person may justifiably use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, without an obligation to retreat first…under these legal concepts, a person is justified in using deadly force in certain situations and the “stand your ground” law would be a defense or immunity to criminal charges and civil suit. The difference between immunity and a defense is that an immunity bars suit, charges, detention and arrest. A defense, such as an affirmative defense, permits a plaintiff or the state to seek civil damages or a criminal conviction but may offer mitigating circumstances that justify the accused’s conduct.” later in this same piece, the following is said of the Stand Your Ground Law in Florida: “In Florida, self-defense claims tripled in the years following enactment. The law’s critics argue that Florida’s law makes it very difficult to prosecute cases against people who shoot others and then claim self-defense. The shooter can argue that he felt threatened, and in most cases, the only witness who could have argued otherwise is the deceased. This problem is inherent to all self-defense laws, not just stand your ground laws. Before passage of the law, Miami police chief John F. Timoney called the law unnecessary and dangerous in that “[w]hether it’s trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn’t want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you’re encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn’t be used.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stand-your-ground_law) The basics of Stand Your Ground in Florida is the formation of a defense, rather than preventing prosecution or arrest. Even though it was legally invoked in a situation by which there was a shooting, it was inappropriately applied to the case because it cannot be a self-defense case if Zimmerman was told not to pursue Martin. If Trayvon Martin had come up to George Zimmerman without warrant and started punching or attacking him for no apparent reason and Zimmerman fired, that would be self-defense. It was not self-defense if Zimmerman was pursuing Martin after he was instructed to wait. Zimmerman had no evidence Martin was doing anything wrong and, as one on community watch, he should have been aware that Martin lived in that neighborhood – not profiled him as causing trouble. Self-defense has no bearing if Zimmerman failed to follow orders and, therefore, Stand Your Ground does not apply.

Fact #6: The jury did not reach their verdict based on the facts of the case.

When people are selected to sit on a jury, they are instructed to decide their verdict strictly on the evidence presented to them in the case. They are often prohibited from watching television or having any contact with the outside world during their jury duty experience. Keeping that in mind, and also keeping in mind the information we have already examined, I want us to carefully examine some of Juror B37’s remarks (http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/15/justice/zimmerman-juror-book):

She said she believes Zimmerman’s “heart was in the right place” the night he shot Martin, but that he didn’t use “good judgment” in confronting the Florida teen.

“I think George Zimmerman is a man whose heart was in the right place, but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhoods, and wanting to catch these people so badly that he went above and beyond what he really should have done,” she said. “But I think his heart was in the right place. It just went terribly wrong.”

“I think George got in a little bit too deep, which he shouldn’t have been there. But Trayvon decided that he wasn’t going to let him scare him … and I think Trayvon got mad and attacked him,” she said. Zimmerman felt his life was in danger before shooting Martin, and it was his voice that was heard screaming for help in 911 calls, the juror said she believes.

“He had a right to defend himself,” she said. “If he felt threatened that his life was going to be taken away from him, or he was going to have bodily harm, he had a right.”

The statements above do not reveal a verdict based on the evidence involved in the case, but loudly bespeak emotional judgments. This juror (and apparently the jury as a whole) came to the conclusion that George Zimmerman was basically just a guy gone wrong, but that he had good motives. Whether George Zimmerman was an altar boy as a child, the lead drummer in the Friends of the Friendless, or the lead director for Make-A-Wish is not relevant in the evidence of this case. If the jurors acknowledged – as this one did – that Zimmerman acted out of step with the law and went “above and beyond what he really should have done,” that makes him guilty – not acquitted.

It is obvious, however, that the jurors were swayed with emotionalism – the concept of Zimmerman being afraid, of him being in too deep – and they sympathized with him, instead of looking objectively at the facts of the case. It can’t be self-defense if Zimmerman was the pursuer. It is also obvious that racial issues were present with the juror herself, as she described Trayvon Martin as “He was a boy of color.” (http://gawker.com/george-zimmerman-juror-b37-hates-media-called-trayvon-787873533)

Given the facts of this case, I believe all of us need to step back first and look at ourselves. We need to stop somehow equating this trial to the OJ Simpson case back in the 1990s (the two have nothing in common), stop saying “But Zimmerman was Hispanic how can this be about race?” (that doesn’t mean he didn’t have racial tendencies toward other groups), and stop making it about Trayvon Martin’s character (the kid is dead, he can’t defend himself, and there is nothing that was found to be about him that labeled him as anything other than an average, normal kid). We need to look at where we are as a church and as a nation. The first thing we need to do is look at our own personal biases and issues. Where are we falling short? Do we refuse to go to a certain church or be with a certain group of people because we are biased against them? Do we refuse to do something because of our own prejudices? Are we not helping or as involved as we should be because of something we don’t like in someone? We need to stop pretending race doesn’t exist in the church. I am the first one to admit there should be no black church, Hispanic church, white church, etc., but the reality is that they do exist, and those lines have been drawn because of the sins of our ancestors. The divisions in the churches exist because someone, somewhere in time was prejudiced and didn’t want to embrace a person of a different race in their church. The result has been radical differences among racially divided church lines. But who says we have to still abide by them? There is nothing stopping any one of us from visiting or reaching out to people of different races who are our brothers and sisters in the Lord. If we want peace, we need to be advocates of it ourselves.

We also need to stop making race an issue among ourselves in the way that we do. It has been spoken of my ministry that sociologists should do a study on us because none of us seem to care that I am the only one of us in the room who does not appear to be of minority descent. Do we care? No, because I’m not trying to be anyone I’m not. At the same time, every one of us is very aware of what I am. When I get up to preach, nobody yells out to me, “Preach, Black Woman!” because to do what would be absurd. This doesn’t make any one of us ignorant, bigoted, racist, or prejudiced; it’s just acknowledging what is. Yes, there are people of every imaginable race who I either work with or who are somehow a part of our ministry and it’s a non-issue to us because we are all one in Christ. Instead of staring at it, maybe it’s time to ask us why we are the way we are and how we’ve all managed to put these issues aside and support one another in love. We’re happy to share where God has brought ALL of us from. That means we need to get active with others and stop just ‘sticking to what we know.’ Get out there and make a stand as pertains to the racism present in the US. Join a peaceful protest (I will not advocate vigilantism in any form), sign a petition, join a boycott, march, write, teach on reconciliation in the church – get out there and do something. Stop staring and start doing.

I think my most pressing issue with the church is asking where are all the prophets and intercessors? People forever tell me how keen they are in the Spirit and how prophetic they are, but they couldn’t watch the body language of Zimmerman and his attorneys on the news and see the smirks, glances, and evil smiles that said “we got away with it?” They are so busy telling people who they are going to marry and telling fortunes for money, they aren’t even praying for our young people or for the racial issues present today! This issue needs to be someone’s spiritual burden, especially as the issue itself continues to spark and get further and further out of control. Why aren’t you praying? Why are you so busy trying to get noticed and get in someone’s conference that you’ve stopped praying for the issues that affect this country? Instead of just randomly praying for peace, why don’t you get before the throne and start seriously seeking God about ways to bring about peace in your own community?

And how about us caring about the issues in our own backyard? I am not opposed, in the least, to mission work…but what about addressing issues at home? What about the fact that we have immigrants from other nations coming in, driving Mercedes and living in huge houses, while the black inner-city communities live in poverty? I’ve got a problem with that! What about making opportunities for those who are right here to go to school, to advance, to get educated, and to bring reform? How about us working for reform?

I believe we need more than just revival in the US; I believe we need reformation. That reformation begins with us, right here, leaders who are able to reach out to others and stand as models of truth and unity in our communities and the nation at large. I’m not going to let anyone or anything turn me away from the Gospel of reconciliation, which holds the promise and truth for us and our healing. That Word is what unites us all across racial lines. I believe in that Word, and the Spirit that unites.

So, no matter how white I may look, where I may be from, or what you may think of me, I want justice for Trayvon. Not just for Trayvon, but for everyone who has experienced injustice in their lives and prejudice based on skin color, or any other reason they may experience injustice. And, with you, I will stand, because the facts on this case, and on racism, speak for themselves.

(c) 2013 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.


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