By Dr. Chuck Missler
Prayer and peace vigils were held from Sanford, Florida to Washington D.C. this weekend in honor of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old young man who was fatally shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman one month ago. Trayvon Martin never suspected that his trip to buy Skittles and iced tea would be his last, that his face would soon be on T-shirts and signs across the country. Martin represents a generation of young men who need to know they are important to their neighborhoods and to the people of their country. He represents a wobbly step in U.S. race relations, and the manner in which America handles this tragic situation could make all the difference between prolonged division and continued healing.
It's hard to know what exactly happened that rainy February night as Martin returned to his dad's fiancée's house after a trip to the local convenience store. Only one person living was involved in the fight that resulted in Martin's death. Only one person gets the chance to tell his side of the story, but bits and pieces of what happened that night have been collected from various sources. On Friday, the police released phone recordings of Zimmerman and of neighbors who heard the sounds of the fight and shooting. The police have described Zimmerman's injuries after the fight. Trayvon's girlfriend has come forward and given her account of what she heard from her side of the phone.
In the meanwhile, thousands of protestors want George Zimmerman arrested and brought to justice.
What is just, though? That's not an easy question to answer.
The Facts So Far
Martin was unarmed. It was raining, so he had his sweatshirt hood over his head. He was talking on the phone to his girlfriend using a headset, walking through the gated community where his father's fiancée lived.
Zimmerman was wearing a red jacket and blue jeans. He said he was on his way to the grocery store. He called the police to report a suspicious person and described Martin as a black man acting strangely and possibly on drugs.
"Something's wrong with him," Zimmerman told the police dispatcher, according to one released recording. "Yep. He's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands." Zimmerman said, "He's checking me out," and then, "This guy looks like he's on drugs, he's definitely messed up." He adds, "These a**holes always get away."
The dispatcher is heard trying to discourage Zimmerman, asking, "Are you following him?.. Okay, we don't need you to do that."
Martin initially walked away, but then he returned to confront Zimmerman. His girlfriend told him to run, but said Martin responded that he wouldn't run. "What are you stopping me for?" Martin asked Zimmerman, according to the girl. "What are you doing around here?" she said Zimmerman responded.
Several neighbors heard the fight that ensued and called 911. The shouts of "Help! Help!" can be heard in the background. "There were gunshots right outside my house. There's someone screaming. I just heard a guy shot," said one neighbor. "Hurry up, they are right outside my house."
Martin's parents believe he was the one calling for help. Zimmerman claims he screamed for help when Martin attacked him. When police arrived, Zimmerman's nose had been bloodied, his back was wet and grassy, and the back of his head had lacerations from hitting the ground. Neighbors have said they saw somebody on top of the guy wearing the red jacket. Other neighbors said they saw the red jacket on top. "They're wrestling right in the back of my porch," one 911 caller declared, "The guy's yelling help and I'm not going out."
The Two Sides
It's not a simple situation. From Zimmerman's point of view, there had been burglaries in the neighborhood, and the criminals had not been caught. He saw a young black man he thought was on drugs, whom he suspected (without any direct evidence) of potentially causing trouble. The young man attacked him, Zimmerman called for help, and he shot the young man in self defense as the young man tried to get his gun.
From Martin's point of view, a big Hispanic man got out of his SUV and started following him. He turned around to confront the man. The man had a gun and appeared hostile. It's reasonable to think that Martin attacked the man in self defense and tried to get the gun away. He got shot in the process and died.
Both men felt threatened. It seems both men acted in what they felt was self defense. The young black man was killed. The Hispanic man has not been arrested.
Black and White
Regardless of what happened that night, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin did not deserve to die. Trayvon's parents are heartbroken; they lost their son, and Zimmerman's bad judgment is a big part of the reason why. At the same time, the police have not arrested Zimmerman because the evidence corroborates Zimmerman's claim of self-defense.
There has been an assumption across the country that Martin is dead because of the color of his skin. That's something that cannot be proven or disproven. Certainly, Zimmerman may have been racially biased and might have held Martin in suspicion because he was black. Unfortunately, innocent black men and women still face suspicion and harassment in America simply because of the shade of their skin, and they have reason to be frustrated. At the same time, it's not fair to assume Zimmerman was racially motivated just because Martin was black. It could have been simply that Martin was young and male. Had Martin been an old guy, black or white, Zimmerman might have easily ignored him. Zimmerman's family members say he has black relatives and friends and insist that he's not racist. We cannot know for certain whether race was the main issue.
What we do know is that Martin was talking on his cell phone using a headset, which would not be easily seen in the dark with his hood over his head, and Zimmerman mistakenly thought he was on drugs. It might be simply the fact that the young man was walking slowly, talking on an unseen phone that unjustly raised suspicions.
The New Black Panthers have offered a $10,000 bounty for the person who brings in Zimmerman, arguing that if the police won't bring him to justice, they'll make sure to do it. Zimmerman hasn't been home or gone to work since the shooting. The group hopes to have $1 million by next week. So far, most protestors have remained peaceful, seeking justice through the legal system, and the New Black Panthers could add a dangerous and potentially violent ingredient to this emotional case.
What should America do? We can warn neighborhood watch volunteers to allow police to do their jobs. We do not take away everybody's guns. We do not sit and point fingers at each other. We do exercise caution before assuming the worst of our neighbors.
Martin's parents and thousands of people around the country want Zimmerman arrested, but legally, the case will never go to trial if a court decides there's not enough evidence against Zimmerman to proceed. It has nothing to do with racism; it's how the justice system works.
Whether Zimmerman is arrested or not, America absolutely must not let Trayvon Martin's death be the cause for destruction and division. The best thing America can do is have his death be a catalyst for healing.
"Don't let his death be in vain. Make it count, make it stand for something," one woman in Sanford prayed during a prayer vigil.
America has moved a long way toward racial healing during the past 50 years. Blacks, Hispanics, Jews and Mormons hold high political offices. The Irish are given jobs as easily as the Italians. People sometimes forget that Denzel Washington is black and that Jackie Chan is Asian and that Tiger Woods is both. There is great hope that people can just be seen as people.
Still, when there are racial frustrations in the stew pot of America, we need to be willing to hear them. We need to truly be willing to love our neighbors, working on our own weaknesses and recognizing one another's strengths. We can all pray that Trayvon Martin becomes a catalyst for healing. We don't know what will happen regarding George Zimmerman, but Trayvon's parents should take note that people of all skin shades have stood up wanting justice for their son.
Pastor Moses Brown of Tampa disapproved of the Panthers' approach. "We believe in a message of justice, not hate," said Brown, who was in town to pray at the memorial. The Panthers chanted behind him while Brown said "I see parallel versions of how we are coping with this as a community. Some in anger and us, in prayer. But we are in America where we have our rights to expression."
Exploitation of a tragic death • OneNewsNow
Elderly couple forced out of home after tweet claims killer of Trayvon Martin lives there • FOX News
What does the Bible say about racism, prejudice, and discrimination? • GotQuestions.org
Obama's Trayvon Martin Remarks Reflect Race, or Parental Instinct? • Christian Post
Lead Detective in Trayvon Case Wanted to Charge Zimmerman • NewsMax.com