A Time to Grieve: Reflections on the Zimmerman Verdict

July 16, 2013

 

Let me begin by confessing:  I didn’t watch any of the coverage of the trial itself.  I guess I felt like the work had been done, the verdict was a foregone conclusion, and it didn’t much matter whether he got Murder 2 or manslaughter; the point had been made.   We may not be able to stop police from stopping young African American men for ‘driving while black,’ but we (meaning people who care about justice) can at least insist that vigilantes who do so and then shoot the young man are held accountable.

The first sign I had that something had gone wrong was seeing people holding a “We Remember Trayvon” sign by the side of the road on my way home from dinner.  I didn’t think much of it.  It was late Saturday night; did juries even deliberate on the weekends?   I actually went for a walk, still ignorant, and didn’t sit down and watch the news until about 9 pm.  Primary emotions:  shock and fear.  Shock that such a thing would happen; fear that it might lead to riots or violence a la Rodney King.

It’s been about forty-eight hours since then, and I’ve read many thoughtful reflections and checked out many powerful memes.  What stands out to me the most is the difference in musical selections.  My Unitarian Universalist friends immediately started sharing Sweet Honey and the Rock’s “Ella’s Song,” with its triumphalist refrain:  “We who believe in freedom shall not rest….until the killing of black men, black mother’s son, is as important as the killing of white men, white mother’s sons.”

Meanwhile, my friend Kelle Brown, a brilliant and dedicated African-American pastor, first posted “Strange Fruit”, complete with images of young black men who had been lynched, burned, or tortured. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqbXOO3OiOs

  I almost didn’t make it through ‘Strange Fruit’ because the images were so violent and horrible.  But I thought to myself, “watching this is the least I can do.” 

The next day she posted “The Women Gather,” also by Sweet Honey.  I cried all the way through “The Women Gather”, and when it was over, found myself thinking that it was too bad that we don’t wear mourning clothes anymore. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBwZMe1-A14

I wanted to go into full mourning, complete black, not just for Trayvon, but for all of the young black and brown men and women through the ages who have been killed because of who they were, where they were, or the color of their skin. 

The questions this raised for me, though, included “Do I even have the right to do that?  Is this my grief?  It sure feels like it is.  But maybe I only have the right to bear witness to the grief within the African American community.  After all, I don’t have to worry that my sons might be shot on their way to the store because of the color of their skin.  I don’t know what it’s like to live with that particular fear.”  I added more tears to the water in the MLK memorial fountain in San Francisco, with the prayer that just as my little grief-drops contributed to the mighty streams of water that are symbolically wearing away the stone of injustice, I might find a way to channel my grief and find some way to be a good ally.

The thing is, I worry that it’s too soon for us white folk to start working for justice in Trayvon Martin’s honor.  It’s not about the verdict.  It’s not even about Trayvon, to some extent.  We need to begin by appropriately grieving literally millions of precious lives cut short.  Only it’s such a huge task, I don’t know where to start. 

The truth is that this country is built not only on those beautiful democratic principles, but also on a mass grave filled with slaves and exploited immigrant workers and violently displaced Native Americans.   It’s not just history, either; our society continues to depend on cheap labor, from the latest wave of immigrants and from young men (mostly men of color) who have been absorbed into the ‘prison-industrial complex.’  In response to this deep and horrifying truth, this sickness at the center of who we are, I can…what?  Buy local?  It just doesn’t feel like enough.

So yes, I believe in freedom, and I will keep on working for justice until every child…and I mean EVERY SINGLE CHILD…grows up safe and loved, from the day they are born until the day they die, ideally at a great old age.   And I will make the best choices I can.  But the question that is burning in me is bigger than that:  what do we do with this vast grief?

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3 Responses to “A Time to Grieve: Reflections on the Zimmerman Verdict”

  1. Kelle Brown Says:

    What a lovely reflection. Thank you for including me.

  2. Jen Sterling Says:

    Oh Rev Liz…I do miss you. This is exactly how I have been feeling about our world too. So…just beat down and feeling like “what’s the point? Nothing ever changes.”
    It’s so nice to read your blog…almost like having you Minister to me!
    Thank You for being YOU!
    Jen Sterling

  3. Lisa Ashley Says:

    Dear Liz, You name the “great grief” so well that I carry so often in my heart. Thank you for naming it so well. Thank you for describing much of my own reaction to the Trayvon Martin case. I think of you, your big heart, your intelligence, your desire to walk well on the earth and engage the difficult questions and it lifts me up. The “greatness” of the problems encapsulated in the case is almost overwhelming. Almost. then I remember how you are being in the world. and how I am being. And while it may feel like small drops of grief or not enough to turn things around within our hurting world, we are what we are: being. Being our best as much and as often as we can. And we know, deep inside, what next step to take, where we are “being” our best and when we are not. It has to be enough so that one step follows another, one hand reaches out to help another, one heart connects to another, and in this, we are One with the Sacred Mystery and each other. Thank you, Liz.


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