Pre-trial verdict: Methodists rule on Trayvon Martin case

The failure of Florida officials to arrest and charge George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin reveals “profound failures of our justice system,” the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society declares.

The church’s announcement is below:

United Methodist social justice agency issues clarion call to faith community about ‘senseless killing’

General Board of Church & Society says ‘Stand Your Ground’ legislation underscores ‘profound failures’ of U.S. justice system.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society is gravely concerned following the senseless killing of teen-ager Trayvon Martin and what his death reveals about the profound failures of our justice system. More than a month has passed since the unarmed youth was shot and killed, but the admitted killer has not been arrested or charged with any crime related to the shooting.

Police say Florida’s “stand your ground” deadly force law prohibits them from making an arrest. The law allows the use of deadly force anywhere a person feels a reasonable fear of death or serious injury. The law has been cited as justification in a rising number of questionable homicide cases in Florida.

In this instance, on Feb. 26 George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed and walking back to the home of his father’s girlfriend in Sanford, Fla. Martin was carrying a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Trayvon Martin and all those who have been touched by this entirely preventable tragedy. The death of Trayvon is a clarion call to the faith community and to all society to act to ensure that such killings be stopped.

‘Stand Your Ground’

According to police, Zimmerman followed and confronted 17-year-old Trayvon despite their instructions to stay away from the youth. Zimmerman has not faced prosecution as a result of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground,” law which takes a shooter’s self-defense claim at face value.

Florida law enforcement officials say they are investigating the killing, and federal authorities say they will open an investigation into the death, most likely under hate crime statutes.

To help bring about an end to such violence, we call for the full repeal of all “Stand Your Ground” legislation. The bill passed the Florida legislature in 2005, and versions exist in more than 20 states due to heavy lobbying by the National Rifle Assn. (NRA). Reports of “justifiable homicides” under this statute have tripled in the state of Florida alone since the law went into effect, threatening the lives of our families and the safety of our communities.

Prevent such tragedies

While people of faith must be agents for healing once these tragedies occur, we can and must also work to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the first place. We call on our legislators to pass policies that protect our children and make the use of firearms a truly rare occurrence. Responsible gun ownership and public safety are not mutually exclusive, but tragically, both were ignored by the Florida state legislature under enormous financial and political pressure from the NRA.

The killing of Trayvon Martin and the handling of the case reveal the profound inability of our current system to bring about justice, particularly for communities of color. The history of Sanford, Fla., includes repeated instances of failure to prosecute when the victim is African-American, and the Sanford police department has a history of not holding perpetrators accountable for violent acts against African-American victims.

We are concerned that youths of color are routinely assumed to be violent criminals, and thus face the constant threat of random acts of violence committed against them.

As people of faith, we call for a racially just legal system where people of color are not profiled, but are given adequate access to justice. We call on all communities of faith to commit to building neighborhoods in which children of all ethnicities and identities grow up in an environment of possibility, free from the menacing threat of the assumption of criminality and an end to the constant threat of violence.

Statement from the General Board of Church & Society of The United Methodist Church (March 27, 2012)

—Jim Winkler, General Secretary
—Bill Mefford, Director, Civil & Human Rights
—Laura Markle Downton, National Coordinator for Restorative Justice

The General Board of Church & Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church. Prime responsibility of the board is to seek implementation of the Social Principles and other policy statements on Christian social concerns of the General Conference, the denomination’s highest policy-making body. The board’s primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education & Leadership Formation, United Nations & International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City.

Updated: March 29, 2012 — 9:24 am

16 Comments

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  1. “As people of faith, we call for a racially just legal system…” Amen.
    From my understanding of the Stand Your Ground law, Martin had even more justification for using force to protect himself from Zimmerman in this situation. Is there any doubt how the incident would have played out if Martin had been armed, and if he pulled out his weapon and engaged in a little justifiable homicide? How would the police have reacted? The courts? What would Geraldo Rivera and Bill O’Reilly have said then?

  2. Hey, José, have you herd of the book by Robert F. Williams titled “Negroes with Guns”? He talks about how he armed his fellow blacks in the 1950s and effectively disbanded the KKK in Monroe, NC. If Martin had been armed, things would have turned out differently. I don’t know the whole story, but it sounds like neither party was acting very respectfully. We’ve got to let the trial and evidence figure that out.

    It’s sad that profiling is a factor sometimes in bone-headed minds, but I don’t see how any laws can directly correct that. Maybe we can double the punishment for white guys shooting black ones? How about executing the white guy twice? Maybe make it illegal to defend yourself against a black guy altogether? If it is true that Zimmerman is a racist profiler, then let’s burn him at the stake, but I can see no effective way of 100% preventing this in the future.

    Let’s educate those who need it to not profile (especially the police), or to not be prejudiced to begin with, but just like adulterers and thieves, there will always be racists (going both ways, I might add). Let the current laws and justice system work here. The President didn’t help things by chiming in for his tribe before the trial and evidence is fully presented. Punishment and justice will (hopefully) be meted out then. Raging against each other over it now serves no constructive purpose. If after the trial, justice was not served (aka Rodney King), then rage may be justified.

    I would like to see the evidence the Methodists have for stating racism in Florida’s justice system. Full numbers comparing convictions for identical crimes and margins of error and other mitigating circumstances. Their blanket statement of blacks being picked on needs to be footnoted with full evidence whenever and wherever it is published. Otherwise, it will be perceived as anecdotal and serve the exact opposite of its purpose.

  3. I’ll state this again, very simply. If you took the situation exactly as it happened and in the same city– EXCEPT that you reversed the races of the two people– the outcome would have been enormously different. A sensible person will recognize that. An honest person will admit it.

    Some will complain about whether to call this racism or profiling. All I’m going to say is that it is wrong, it is unjust, and it is un-American. Faithful people will call for society to change. People who lack in courage and character will turn their heads and ignore the problem.

  4. How so, José? Zimmerman is in jail right now awaiting trial. If the roles had been reversed, Martin would be in jail right now awaiting trial. Equality before the law—that’s all we can ask for. Now, as the Methodists contend, the outcome of the trial may differ because of race, and if so, that is a shame, but I think in this case with all its publicity—with even the President of the United States plugging in his two cents—Zimmerman is going to be quite lucky if he ever gets a fair hearing. Guilty or not, he’s gonna have to be locked up just to save the rest of us from riots in the streets. He’s been convicted already in the court of public opinion. Shame on the President for that.

  5. If the shooter had been black and the unarmed teenaged victim white, would the killer have been released almost immediately with a shrug of the shoulders? Would the authorities have taken the shooter at his word, when there was no disputing account because the other party was stretched out mute and cold in the morgue? Please.
    Yes, Zimmerman was FINALLY arrested and charged but only after the public spoke out at the obvious mishandling of the case during the first few days. I’m proud that my church added its voice to those who called for justice from the start. I’m offended by those who were satisfied by the initial inaction of the police, which was anything but equal treatment, and who now complain about a rush to judgment when the authorities are simply following due process.
    And I think it’s both nutty and obscene to suggest that Martin is somehow to blame because he didn’t bother to pack a gun when all he wanted to do was walk across a neighborhood to visit his dad. Shame on you and shame on Ann Coulter.

  6. Based on various reports, it is quite possible that it was actually Zimmerman who was actually attacked an injured by Martin. If that was the case then it was indeed a case of self defense. All we know is that the media edited the 911 call to make it appear (falsely) that Zimmerman was a racist. ABC edited the video they showed to suppress the fact that Zimmerman had been injured. The people screaming for the lynching of Zimmerman have a record of phony claims (remember Tawana Brawley) and of trying to trigger riots (Crown Heights for example).

    The prosecutor apparently felt that the case was so weak that she could not get it past a Grand Jury.

    If it was as open and shut as you pretend, the original police would not have let Zimmerman go.

  7. All that you say is questionable and none of it disputes the main facts, that an armed man chased down an unarmed teenager and killed him, and shortly thereafter the man was released from custody without charges and with essentially no investigation. Again, that would not have been the case if the shooter had been black and the victim white.

    Any decent law-respecting citizen would expect better than this. That is not vengeance; it’s accountability. To call that demand for justice “screaming for lynching” is both ironic and insulting. Black people in that region remember all too well when lynching was literal, not metaphorical. It was not long ago when allegations against blacks, be they true or unfounded, ended quickly with a real rope. They were not accorded their rights of due process and a fair trial decided by a jury of one’s peers, under the rule of law. It speaks volumes when white folks today are scared of facing true justice even with the benefits of legal protections that their fathers denied to others.

  8. Jose:

    There are creditable reports that Zimmerman was actually trying to get back to his truck after trying to verify a nearby address when Martin attacked him. There are also public “wanted posters” putting a $10,000 bount on Zimmerman “preferably dead”. There is a witness that Zimmerman was down on the ground being beaten and that he was the one calling for help.

    Since neither of us was their, it is actually improper to attempt to convict Zimmerman because he was carrying a gun (legally) and may have been defending himself. It is also improper to declare him innocent anywhere but in a court of law before an unprejudiced jury.

    Your post shows that you (as an example) would not be allowed on the jury as you have already prejudged the case without any evidence.

    I used the term “lynching” because there are people who are trying to get Zimmerman killed literally. The fact that people were lynched in the past does not make it proper today.

    It is also interesting that the media invent the term “White Hispanic” in order to condemn Zimmerman, when they would be using “Hispanic” to defend him in other circumstances.

  9. There have been many cases where black defendents have been released when the circumstances and legalities for holding them were in doubt. This whole incident is difficult to discern right now and was so at the beginning. What is troublesome is the absolute hatred and violent threats involved and the Methodist statement right now certainly isn’t helping matters. They don’t know all the circumstances yet—no one does—and are implicating more than current evidence suggests, which will only skew justice. Unless, of course, that is their intention.

    If this were two white guys fighting with few witnesses and claims of self-defence, Zimmerman may have still been released. Same if it were two blacks.

  10. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-usa-florida-shooting-zimmermanbre83o18h-20120425,0,3144447.story

    The 28-year-old insurance-fraud investigator comes from a deeply Catholic background and was taught in his early years to do right by those less fortunate. He was raised in a racially integrated household and himself has black roots through an Afro-Peruvian great-grandfather – the father of the maternal grandmother who helped raise him.

    A criminal justice student who aspired to become a judge, Zimmerman also concerned himself with the safety of his neighbors after a series of break-ins committed by young African-American men.

    Though civil rights demonstrators have argued Zimmerman should not have prejudged Martin, one black neighbor of the Zimmermans said recent history should be taken into account.

    “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I’m black, OK?” the woman said, declining to be identified because she anticipated backlash due to her race. She leaned in to look a reporter directly in the eyes. “There were black boys robbing houses in this neighborhood,” she said. “That’s why George was suspicious of Trayvon Martin.”

    “MIXED” HOUSEHOLD

    George Michael Zimmerman was born in 1983 to Robert and Gladys Zimmerman, the third of four children. Robert Zimmerman Sr. was a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam in 1970, and was stationed at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, in 1975 with Gladys Mesa’s brother George. Zimmerman Sr. also served two tours in Korea, and spent the final 10 years of his 22-year military career in the Pentagon, working for the Department of Defense, a family member said.

    In his final years in Virginia before retiring to Florida, Robert Zimmerman served as a magistrate in Fairfax County’s 19th Judicial District.

    Robert and Gladys met in January 1975, when George Mesa brought along his army buddy to his sister’s birthday party. She was visiting from Peru, on vacation from her job there as a physical education teacher. Robert was a Baptist, Gladys was Catholic. They soon married, in a Catholic ceremony in Alexandria, and moved to nearby Manassas.

  11. The question that remains is about basic rights. Zimmerman may have been suspicious of Martin, but, did he violate Martin’s right to be in the same place as himself. Did Martin feel threatened by Zimmerman who had a gun? Did Zimmerman brandish a gun, leaving Martin to attack? To many questions for me to take sides.

  12. I agree Perplexed, and the Methodists should wait for more evidence before inciting everyone. They may have good points, but at this moment it is just adding more fuel to the fires. Let’s figure out the actual merits of this particular case before we start repealing “stand your ground” laws and other changes. It something needs to be fixed, let’s fix it, but not while the fire is raging.

  13. I have to challenge that Z “chased” T down (esp. like a dog..Maxine Waters)…He looked suspicious because of the recent problems in the neighborhood. ZIMMERMAN CALLED 911….he had no intent to confront Trayvon!! He was obviously attacked…Trayvon did not know he had a gun OBVIOUSLY. Witnesses know he was being beaten. Why do people think Trayvon attacked Zimmerman BECAUSE he had a gun…he had not seen the gun, or he was using very bad judgement. The life of the Zimmerman family has been destroyed and I can’t imagine how they will live if he is released. AND those tapes that were edited…..SOMEONE NEEDS TO SUE THE HECK OUT OF THE MEDIA…THAT CAN’T BE LEGAL….putting the Zimmerman family at more risk, inciting rioting. Trayvon was SENT to his dad for the duration of his suspension from school and THEY WERE VISITING DAD’S GIRLFRIEND IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. Oh yeah. Why would Trayvon be screaming when he was doing the beating…his knuckles had signs of this. Anyway, I am sorry it happened…I am sure Zimmerman is more sorry. As far as their finances. If I had contributed to the legal fund I would not have minded at all them paying bills out of it…THIS FAMILY IS DESTITUTE.

  14. Jonathan Capehart is a blogger for the Washington Post. He has followed the Trayvon Martin case closely from the beginning. His articles have been thorough and quite fair. Unlike most of us, Capehart has taken the time to study the transcripts and the reports and the rulings. Anyone who cares too learn more about this unfolding story– complete with ambiguities and contradictions– would be well advised to read his blogs. And for those who have already made up their minds, well y’all just keep doing what you’re gonna do anyway, facts be damned.

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