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.