In conjunction with the observance of the 85th birthday of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. in January, the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights is organizing a community-wide conversation with the goal of ridding our justice system of racial and class bias.
Representatives of police agencies and courts, together with clergy, interested citizens and community leaders, will be invited to address and find solutions to the troubling implications arising from the” not-guilty” verdict rendered in Florida’s People vs. Zimmerman case.
The members of the jury seemed to believe they had little choice but to find Zimmerman not guilty, due to the Florida “stand your ground” law that allowed Zimmerman to claim self-defense, after he profiled, followed, and, against police orders, provoked a violent struggle with Trayvon Martin that ended in the latter’s death. The jury was instructed to ignore all of the actions that led to the mortal encounter and consider only if Zimmerman’s life was endangered, although he was the one armed with a gun.
Against the background of America’s history of racial discrimination and strife, the original incident and all that followed upon it – from the much-delayed charging of Zimmerman with second-degree murder, to the trial and finally to the not unexpected acquittal – evokes the terrible memory of Reconstruction-era justice, in which African Americans were lynched by mobs, bombed to death in churches and persecuted with impunity by white citizens and authorities alike.
The verdict, coming within weeks of the U.S. Supreme Court’s gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, must be understood as a call for a moral renewal of our nation’s very soul. It cannot be said by anyone with a sense of morality that Trayvon’s family has seen justice done in this case.
“Stand your ground” laws are emblematic of the breakdown of commonsense and human rights in our culture. That George Zimmerman can legally carry a lethal weapon again and use it a second time in “self-defense” is an astounding commentary on the American system of justice.
Therefore, MCHR calls for the repeal of laws that encourage vigilantism by private citizens. In keeping with such an initiative, MCHR calls for changes in the administration of justice – from police interaction with those suspected of crimes, to their possible trials and sentencing that produces abnormally high rates of incarceration of African American males.
MCHR is an interfaith non-profit organization founded in 1980 by Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, the late Rabbi Richard Hertz and the late Episcopal Bishop H. Coleman McGehee. MCHR promotes awareness of, commitment to, and advocacy for human rights through education, community organization, and action. MCHR opposes forces that suppress human dignity, freedom, and justice locally and around the world. MCHR also organizes and sponsors Freedom Tours that take high school students to civil rights sites in the south to educate them about our nation’s civil rights history and inspire them to be our future justice leaders. For more information, go to mchr.org.
-Carry McGehee is the chair of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights