Diverse Christian Perspectives on the Trayvon Martin Case
Image: http://rabble.ca/sites/rabble/files/imagecache/350px-width-scale-PREVIEW/node-images/trayvon.jpg The Christian witness in the United States is on the line. Will the culturally diverse Christian church in America listen to its African American and Latino brothers and sisters about the Trayvon Martin case?
If the mainstream American suburban church fails to listen, it will rupture its relationship with millions of African American and Latino Christians, and it will destroy its witness to millions of non-Christians in the United States and around the globe.
As sincerely and clearly expressed by President Obama on Friday, the Trayvon Martin case taps into many historical and contemporary race issues affecting millions of African Americans and Latinos in our country. (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHBdZWbncXI)
From the founding of the United States to the present day, African Americans and Latinos have experienced unequal justice in the American criminal justice system. We’ve been lynched, excluded from serving on juries, racially profiled and targeted by police, and the victims of kangaroo courts of justice. The Trayvon Martin case taps into this unfortunate history.
From 1848-1928 it is estimated that 597 individuals of Mexican descent were lynched in the United States (harvardcrcl.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/297-312.pdf). Nearly 2,500 African Americans were lynched between 1882-1930 in the South (http://www.umass.edu/complit/aclanet/USLynch.html).
For Latinos, the paradigmatic example of jury exclusion is the historic 1954 Supreme Court case of Hernandez v. Texas (http://www.oyez.org/cases/1950-1959/1953/1953_406). This case involved the systematic exclusion of Mexican Americans from juries in Jackson County Texas for 25 years! In 1985, the California Supreme Court ruled that Latinos could not be excluded from serving on juries just because of their last names (I was in middle school at the time).
That same year, the United States Supreme Court held in Batson v. Kentucky, that potential jurors could not be struck down simply because of their race. Batson involved a situation where a prosecutor struck down all potential black jurors as a means of successfully securing the prosecution of a black defendant.
Another tragic example of unequal justice from recent history is the case of Vincent Chin. Chin was a Chinese American who was killed by a Chrysler plant supervisor and his son-in-law in Detroit in 1982: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/23/opinion/why-vincent-chin-matters.html?_r=0
The supervisor and his step-son were angry at Vincent because they thought he was a Japanese person who was taking away American jobs. They killed Vincent with a baseball bat and were let off with probation and a fine. Justice has still not been served in this case.
And then there was of course the infamous Rodney King beating and acquittal in 1992: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SW1ZDIXiuS4.
In 2004, yes, just 9 years ago, the Mississippi State Supreme Court reversed a conviction in a case where all potential black jurors had been struck from the jury pool.
I could give many other historical examples, but, For People of Color in the United States, racist juries and unjust legal proceedings have resulted in many unlawful convictions of our friends and family members up until recent times. The Trayvon Martin case brings this all back up for us.
Here are a few personal stories. When I was Trayvon's age, I also experienced racial profiling--in my case, by the police. I was driving in my new car together with three other Chicanos (Mexican-Americans). I was obeying all of the speed limits and traffic regulations because I was keenly aware that a police officer was behind me. Sure enough, the police officer pulled us over and told me, “Do you know why I’ve pulled you over. It’s because I could not see your temporary registration.” This was a lie because my temporary registration was clearly visible in the corner of my back window. The police officer thought that we had stolen the car. Why else would 4 Chicanos be driving a brand new Nissan Sentra? To this day, even though I'm a tenured UCLA professor and an attorney, I still experience racial profiling in different ways. For more on this, see another recent blog post: http://www.jesusforrevolutionaries.org/critical-race-theory-and-christianity-part-i-racism-is-ordinary/
I have an African American friend who left his job as an engineer to devote his life to being a pastor working with gang youth in Watts. One night, the police stormed down his door and forced he and his brother to fall down to the ground at the point of a gun. Why? Because they mistook him for someone else—they racially profiled him even though he was a pastor whose life was dedicated to giving gang youth a second chance at life!
One last example. A Christian student from UCLA came to me recently because her father had been falsely convicted of murder and imprisoned. He didn't do it, but he received incompetent and dishonest legal assistance by the state of California--which cost his family thousands of dollars. I was able to put him in touch with my cousin who is a top-notch criminal defense attorney and now my student's father has a good chance of being set free for a crime he did not commit.
Millions of Latino and African Americans in the United States share the common historical experiences I have just described. Many of us are Christians, too. This God-given experience shapes our perspective on the Trayvon Martin case. We understand that the unjust verdict in the Trayvon Martin case is emblematic of deeper racism in American society and within the American criminal justice system. This is why we are so angered and distraught by the verdict in this decision.
To the mainstream suburban church in America, we say, in love, please hear us out.
We represent a different part of the Body of Christ which has unique perspectives which are shaped by our love for God and the distinct experiences He has allowed us to have. Many of us have experienced the inequity of the legal system in America and this is why the Trayvon Martin case resonates so deeply within us.
If the church in America does not take the time to consider the diverse perspectives of Christians of Color and the millions of African American and Latinos who have been affected by the acquittal of George Zimmerman, then this will destroy the Christian witness in this country for many years to come.
If many in the church in America continue to praise the Zimmerman acquittal as a just outcome that has nothing to do with race, then Jesus will be misrepresented. Millions of Latinos and African Americans in this country will be led to believe that Jesus is unconcerned with racial injustice and the broken criminal justice legal system in America. Millions will be unnecessarily turned away from Jesus.
Jesus came as Savior of the world, to transform all human relationships, to establish God’s justice in society, and to make all things new. His death and resurrection inaugurated this process of redemption, and will be completed when He returns again. Until then, we are Jesus’ ambassadors to the world. We are His instruments of justice, peace, and social transformation. Jesus wants to use us to promote justice and racial reconciliation in this powerful historical moment.
If we close our hearts and minds to the diverse cultural perspectives of the Body of Christ, then we will misrepresent Jesus to the world and we will miss out on being His ambassadors in this deeply important historical moment.
In the Peace of Christ,
Robert Chao Romero
For diverse Christian perspectives on the Trayvon Martin case, see:
“3 Things Privileged Christians Can Learn from the Trayvon Martin Case.”
“The Zimmerman Verdict and the Resurrection of the Old Jim Crow”
Lisa Sharon Harper
“Asian Americans: Let’s Stop Thinking That We’re Switzerland.”
Pastor Ken Fong.
Join the Christian movement to overturn “Stand Your Ground” Laws: