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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Black Clergy Stand Their Ground Against Zimmerman Verdict

Rev. Michael Walrond, senior pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, at a press conference in front of Justice Department.. (Photo/Freddie Allen/NNPA News Service.
Rev. Michael Walrond, senior pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, at a press conference in front of Justice Department.. (Photo/Freddie Allen/NNPA News Service.

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Just as they did during the height of the Civil Rights  Movement, last Saturday’s demonstrations in more than 100 cities around the  nation to protest the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman on charges that he  murdered 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, many ministers were in the forefront of  protests at federal buildings in their communities.

They started off by standing with Rev. Al Sharpton who announced plans to  contest “Stand Your Ground” laws in Florida and 28 other states. More than 20  Black clergy leaders joined Sharpton last week in front of the Justice  Department in Washington, D.C. to express their concerns about the “Stand Your  Ground” self-defense statutes and the dangerous message that the Zimmerman  verdict carried.

Sharpton said that if we don’t change the “Stand Your Ground” laws, we risk  having more Trayvon Martin cases, because the law emboldens people.

“There is a license through the George Zimmerman verdict that any White male  that feels threatened can shoot a Black boy and be justified,” said Rev. Anthony  Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative. “We’re going to have  to teach our boys how to be safe. We’re going to have to teach our young boys  about what the law says what are their rights and how to protect themselves and  using a buddy system. We’re going to have to do something significant to protect  our young boys.”

Other Black pastors said it’s not just our young Black men that need an  education, but also anyone that believes that the election of President Obama  ushered in a new, post-racial chapter in American society.

“When people believe that race is not a factor in the Trayvon Martin case,  when people believe that class and culture are not [factors] in this case, there  is some serious education that needs to be done,” said Rev. Lisa Jenkins, pastor  of Saint Matthews Baptist Church in Harlem.

Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore Md.,  said that many people fooled themselves into believing that now that we have a  Black president, being Black is no longer an issue.

“That’s very far from the truth,” said Bryant.

Rev. L.B. West, pastor of the Mount Airy Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.,  said that Black clergy members have always played critical leadership roles in  shaping local, state, and national dialogue surrounding social justice and civil  rights issues. West added that it was also critical for their congregations to  see that they also struggled with the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman  trial. West said that he was personally angry that a young Black boy, that did  nothing wrong, could lose his life, and no one is held accountable.

“It’s important for people to see that even spiritual people can have anger  and it’s a righteous anger,” said West. The Washington pastor added that the  anger surrounding the not guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial needed to  be channeled into constructive acts instead of destructive ones.

Sharpton’s National Action Network organized “Justice for Trayvon” vigils in  100 cities on Saturday, July 20. Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton joined Sharpton  for the vigil and rally in New York City, N.Y.

Even though it’s important to honor the memory of Trayvon Martin, the Black  pastors wanted to ensure that this tragic moment would not be lost to  history.

Bryant said the laws and the climate that catapulted this case onto the  international stage need to be addressed.

“I don’t want us to get so caught in the personality that we miss the  principle,” said Bryant. “The principle is unequal sentencing and other  [disparities] in the judicial system. There are 30 states under the banner of  ‘stand your ground.’ It’s bigger than George Zimmerman. He’s just the  representation of the principle of stand your ground. So, the focus has to be  much bigger than that.”

Working with the Florida state legislators, the National Rifle Association  and the American Legislative Exchange Council helped craft the controversial  “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005. The law basically extended the “Castle  doctrine” [a person’s home is his or her castle and can be defended with  gunfire] to the streets, allowing a people in what they feel is a  life-threatening situation outside of his home to defend themselves with deadly  force, rather than retreat.

According to In the Public Interest, a resource center on privatization and  public contracting, “ALEC plays an important role of providing corporations with  valuable and unfettered access to state legislators. ALEC works with its members  to draft model bills that state legislators can introduce and push in their  states.”

The watchdog group said that ALEC eventually dismantled the task force that  helped Florida state legislators craft its “Stand Your Ground” law, after coming  under fire for also promoting controversial voter suppression laws.

During a national pastors’ conference in Miami, Fla., this week, Sharpton  addressed a number of key issues that came to light during the George Zimmerman  trial, including ALEC’s involvement in shaping “Stand Your Ground” laws across  the nation. Even though, many of the pastors present at the news conference last  week hinted at boycotting companies that financially support ALEC, no specific  plans had been developed at that time.

The Black pastors pushed back on the notion that Black leaders are simply  fanning racial flames instead of addressing the crime and gun violence that  claims the lives of thousands of young Black males in our nation’s largest  cities.

“All across the country in urban centers and cities across the country there  have been people raising their voices around violence. In New York City, in  Chicago, in Philadelphia, it’s not just one time,” said Rev. Michael Walrond,  senior pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem. “Because of the  national scene and the national view of the Trayvon Martin case any reaction we  have to it, any engagement we have with it, is going to have larger-than-life  proportions.”

Walrond added that organizations, across the country have been dealing with  violence in the Black community. Unfortunately, those smaller movements just  don’t make it into the newspapers.

Bryant’s Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, Md., will host a gun buy-back  program on Tuesday, August 6.

Rev. Frederick Haynes, senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in  Dallas, said that it’s unfair to point fingers at the young men who are the  victims and perpetrators of most of the crime in our communities, without  pointing a finger at those who create the insufferable conditions that force  those young men to make tough choices.

“In darkness crimes, will be committed,” said Haynes. “You just don’t indict  those that commit the crimes you also go after those who cause the darkness. The  darkness is poverty, the darkness is a lack of options, the lack of  opportunities, the darkness is a lack of a quality education and until we  address the darkness, crimes will be committed.”

Haynes continued: “We do our part in terms of mentoring our young men and  showing them a better way, but if they do not have options, because of economic,  educational, political and social injustice, then the sad reality is that  there’s darkness that will be created, where the crimes will be committed.”

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