The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 16, 2013

Let us not dwell here too long

The Daily Item

— A month shy of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s plea on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for equality based on “content of character,” the United States once again seems to be dividing along racial lines.

The “not guilty” verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial in the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin has not ignited violence the way the Rodney King verdict did, but it has opened a wound.

Today, it seems, there is little separation between racial and political. Until we get to the point where those two can be mutually exclusive, work needs to continue.

Maybe there will always be some level of self-segregation in our society. What we do, what we say and how we choose to live our lives divides us from others.

We are not talking about someone’s lot in life, things over which they have no control. Instead, this is about the choices we make, which inevitably divide us into groups.

This cultural self-segregation comes with risk.

The lead investigator in the Zimmerman case, Sanford Det. Chris Serino, told the FBI, which was investigating whether the shooting was racially motivated, that Zimmerman said he followed the teen not because of his race, but because he was wearing a dark, hooded sweatshirt.

Should wearing those clothes, or really anything, at night put you in harm’s way? Of course not. Appearance is just one evident communication of self-identification.

The same is true of carrying a weapon on your hip. When you choose to be a night watchman and you choose to carry a loaded weapon, a decision to follow someone converts the gun from a defensive to an offensive weapon and changes your role from guardian to hunter to menace.

Most reasonable people probably believe that Trayvon Martin’s hooded sweatshirt was a more peaceable fashion choice than George Zimmerman’s loaded and holstered sidearm. Florida law led a jury to a significantly different conclusion. What can we make of that?

Self-segregation produces suspicion. Suspicion generates fear. Fear creates bad law. Bad law perpetuates injustice.

If we are ever going to know each other by the content of our character, it is not going to happen in a world viewed through the lenses of people who choose to see each other as “crackers” or “punks.”

Let us not dwell too long in this place. A righteous journey lies elsewhere.