Zimmerman & lessons from Mandela
One would have to be in a media coma not to have heard about the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman over the death of Trayvon Martin.
Since the reporting of the incident in February of 2012, it was clear that it would be branded a racial issue in the media: From its initial reporting on NBC, where audio tapes were edited to make it appear that Zimmerman was racially profiling Martin, to the many marches and demonstrations we’ve seen take place around the country advocating that anything less than a conviction of Zimmerman would be racial injustice.
When the not guilty verdict came back from the jurors, the expected onslaught of tweets, posts, articles, and commentaries began, and once again our nation is divided.
Some are on the side of the Martin family, who has to live with the tragic loss of their son. Others are on the side of Zimmerman, who asserted that he feared for his safety and shot Martin in self-defense.
As for me, I am just sick of the divisive rhetoric. It seems like everything these days is viewed through a partisan lens. Black versus white, male versus female, Democrat versus Republican .... How about simply arguing for truth/justice/constitutionality, despite the parties involved?
As a parent, of course, I can understand the position of Martin’s family who recognize this as a tragic loss of their son. By all accounts, Trayvon was simply walking from the store, not engaged in any nefarious activity at the time of the incident.
And while he subsequently engaged in a fight with Zimmerman, no one who has gotten into a fist fight expects for a gun to be drawn on them, much less that they could end up being killed.
Yet, I don’t believe the prosecuting argument that once Zimmerman left the car to follow Martin — a legal act, though it defied the advice of the 911 operator — his intention was to murder the 17-year-old. If that was the case, why not shoot from a safe distance? Why continue to remain on the scene and talk about the incident days and weeks afterwards?
Only God truly knows the intents of Zimmerman’s heart. However, his actions during and after the shooting simply do not seem to be the actions of a murderer.
What grieves me most about this whole situation is how this case dominated the media news cycle for weeks because of the injection of race.
This was evident, for example, by comments made by Martin’s family attorney, Benjamin Crump, who equated this case with the 1950s Emmett Till murder case which involved a 14-year-old black young man being tortured and murdered for flirting with a white woman.
Mr. Crump said, “You have a little black boy who was killed ... It’s going to be reported in history books, and 50 years from now, our children will talk about Trayvon Martin’s case like we talk about Emmett Till.”
Making such a comparison belittles what true racial injustice is and seems to go so beyond the pale that I begin to question if the purpose of the Zimmerman case was simply to sensationalize racial tensions and deepen racial divides within our nation.
The irony of all of this is that this week celebrates the birthday of a man who seemed to take the opposite approach in dealing with racial tensions: former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Nelson Mandela, who turns 95 this Thursday.
I stand in awe of this man for how he not only led, but embodied strength and peace in a country where apartheid’s racial inequality was blatant and prevalent in every area of life for blacks.
However, Mandela worked tirelessly to maintain a delicate balance between the transitioning power of all-white apartheid rule, to democratic representative rule.
In reading commentary on the Zimmerman case, I have a renewed appreciation for how monumental Nelson Mandela’s uniting of his country truly was. It is one thing to have the white minority relinquish power through political pressure. It is quite another to mitigate the feelings of resentment by the black majority and not have them abuse the power they gained.
To broker a representative government that is embraced by both blacks and whites is truly remarkable. It exemplifies how a nation can move past racial tensions that are so ingrained in their collective consciousness.
In contrast, despite it being 200-plus years after the end of slavery and 50 years after passing civil rights laws, one might think, based on the Zimmerman trial commentary, that America today is similar to 1960s South Africa — still enshrouded by racists who would suppress the rights and justices of blacks.
But I would say she is not. America is an amazing country, filled with God-given resources and beauty that can only be matched by her people — of all races and ethnicities.
Constantly insinuating that America is racist is truly condescending when I look at what true racial injustice looks like in other countries around the world.
So, I reject the actions of some black leaders who would use the Zimmerman case to intentionally stir up anger and racial tensions in this country.
Instead I beg them to look at Nelson Mandela’s example of how he treated the “other side,” and how he worked to unite a nation and not pick at her wounds to further divide her.
While anger may animate some for a short-term, it is forgiveness and love that truly heals our inward wounds. This love for America and its people is never blind to past injustices, but it is the more excellent way to uniting any people toward a more hopeful future.
[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]