I’m staying out of the Trayvon Martin thing. I just can’t do it this time. I know that makes me a bad progressive, maybe a bad Christian, certainly a bad social networker, and perhaps even a bad American.

The media tells me I should have been glued to my TV for the past several weeks, cheering when “my side” scored a point, scoffing at the lawyers and witnesses on the “other side.” But I do not have a TV (much to Verizon’s incessant chagrin – I’m missing out on their BUNDLE, don’t I know??).

No, I have not been a proper “media consumer.”

I did not accept my free ticket to the summer circus.

The Facebook Frenzy

So when I got on Facebook yesterday to see what was going on in the land of cute kittens and pretty sunsets and weddings and babies and random photos of food, I was taken aback.

The verdict had been handed down twenty-four hours before; Zimmerman was walking the streets again, and all hell had broken loose!

I felt a moment of panic. I did not have my case prepared! Everyone else seemed to know every detail of the case, they had opinions on the lawyers and the judge and the witnesses and the pre-trial this and that.

No worries, my Facebook friends would tell me what to think. Most of my friends are progressive types, and they were all over the story. Dozens of articles, some searing with sarcasm and seriously funny, some digging up dark moments in civil rights history that many white folk have probably never heard of.

Pictures of hoodies and Martin Luther King, pictures of Martin Luther King IN a hoodie, pleas for civil suits, and petitions for the Justice Department to take action.

MLK

My conservative Facebook friends (the few, the proud, the brave who suffer my rants about global warming, peace, WalMart, and even presidential elections) were all over the gun thing. This had nothing to do with race, they said, it was all about the right to bear arms. Some had moved into compassionate conservatism, feeling badly that George Zimmerman “is going to be spit on, literally and figuratively, for the rest of his life.”

Remarkably, I refrained from commenting, “I hope so.”

This was a turning point for me.

What I Do Not Know

Because you see, I do not know. Am I even allowed to say that, to not have an opinion?

I do not know the facts. I was not there. I was not on the jury. I do not know the defendant or the dead teenager.

I want to think that the jury did their best to put aside their prejudices, preconceptions, and personal politics and to seek the truth. “Reasonable doubt” is always subjective, but what else do we have?

I do not know. That is why I’m abdicating my personal soapbox for the moment.

I often jump to conclusions, often react with knee-jerk assumptions. People I know and trust say this, so it must be so. The wealthy corporation claims this, so it’s probably not true. Past history in America is this, therefore

We all do this. We base our opinions on our past experience, our beliefs, and our context. Nothing wrong with that, up to a point.

But in a court of law, that would be hearsay and circumstantial evidence.

What I Do Know

The circumstances in the Zimmerman/Martin case, as I see them, seem pretty clear. I can understand why people are holding vigils.

George Zimmerman has a history of violence towards cops and women; he has a history of racial hate speech, and he has called the police more than forty times about “suspicious” black people in his neighborhood.

The police told him not to go out there with his gun that night. The National Sheriff’s Association completely disavowed Zimmerman’s action and said his group was not a Neighborhood Watch.

Trayvon Martin smoked pot, I hear.

What Others Know

Many of my African American friends are devastated by the verdict. I am sick on their behalf, on this nation’s behalf.

Even setting aside the Zimmerman case, why are we still like this? Why should my friends have to worry that their teenagers will be shot when they walk out the front door? Like any parents, they talk to their kids about respecting their elders and responding appropriately to authority, but in their case, it can be a life or death conversation.

The FOX News commentators  say this whole mess is because the black people, including our President, keep bringing up all this race stuff. If they would just stop stirring the pot, everything would be fine.

Right. Let’s move on from all this unpleasantness.

My younger friends seem to have been hit upside the head with this verdict. It seems clear to them that Trayvon Martin was stalked and murdered. They thought that things had changed since their grandparent’s day. They know that politics is broken, but had hoped the judicial system was above that.

They have had their eyes opened.

I know the feeling. I remember the gut-kick I received when the Supreme Court said, “Stop counting the votes,” during the Bush v. Gore electoral debacle in — oh yeah . . . Florida.

Stop counting the votes? Isn’t this America? Don’t we count the votes here?

Well, folks, this is America. And shit happens.

 Bending the Arc of History

It’s up to us to keep trying to get it right. We must not give up. We are Americans.

Try to be civil. Try to consider the facts. Even try to examine the other side with an open mind, if you can find someone who is able to state it reasonably. It’s harder and harder these days, on both “sides.”

To my progressive friends, I say work for justice – don’t give up. Try to speak reasonably and don’t set your hair on fire. The arc of history bends towards justice – we must believe this and put all of our collective weight into bending that arc.

To my conservative friends who think that the word “justice” has been co-opted by “liberals” and is really something that God will hand down in the by-and-by, I say read your bible about justice and oppression and pray about it. Shut out the noise and see what God might be saying to you, personally. And pray for peace.

We should all be praying for peace. Real, true peace, not covering-things-over peace.

And we should be talking about morality, not just legality. Because as it turns out, sometimes laws are immoral.

I feel a little guilty for not diving into the blazing house of opinionators this time. But also a little liberated. I’m not informed, and I don’t know how to get informed at this point.

You guys already know how I feel about racism, and if you don’t, please read There’s No Such Thing as Quiet Racism. The disease is alive and noisy in America.

It is possible that Zimmerman is innocent, under a less-than-moral Florida law. It’s just as possible that he’s guilty as sin.

Either way, I hope that there are further investigations.

Because the kid is dead.

OK, maybe I do have an opinion.

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