Ignoring history/doomed to repeat

Over the last few days, last few weeks, I’ve seen an increasing amount of commentary on the death of a black Florida teenager at the hands of a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer.

What started as an isolated, and obviously unfortunate incident in an obscure corner of suburban central Florida, has now swelled into a great festering boil on the backside of the American consciousness.

As someone who flatters himself to be fastidious and methodical in his reasoning of the facts at hand, instead of leaping foolishly into the shallow realm of bellicose sound-bite and sociopolitical gainsaying, I have read hundreds (nay, thousands!) of words on the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the victim of a catastrophic turn of events who has become a national symbol of the ever-simmering cauldron of racism contained in our “melting pot” pluralistic society.

I have to admit I have marveled at how our culture has so greedily and easily chewed up and swallowed this story. In this haste, we are all experiencing a rather acerbic bout of indigestion. So much ink has been spilt in editorial columns, every 24-hour news cycle is rife with talking heads opining on this, that, and the other. So many words.

But in all those words, there are three that I haven’t heard or read yet that seem worth remembering in this situation: “Duke lacrosse team.”

It was only a few years ago when a stripper alleged she was the victim of all manner of cruelties at the hands of the nearly all-white members of the Duke University lacrosse team. The incident went from an accusation to a conviction in the court of public opinion faster than you can say “Nancy Grace.”

As with this current controversy, the 24-hour headline news media was all over the story. Celebrities lent their voices in calling out the drunken debaucheries of the “rich kids” who, it seemed, exemplified every crass stereotype of rural/Southern racist oppression.

But the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey might intone, was that the charges were entirely without merit.

The charges were simply the fabrication of a troubled young woman who was, at best, misled and, at worst, cruelly opportunistic.

Obviously the variables in the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman are different, but I would argue that the dynamic is the same.

In both cases two opposing sides are attempting to contextualize the incident in vastly different ways.

One side will say that a community-minded Zimmerman was merely acting in self-defense against a belligerent and violent hoodlum. Another side will say that mild-mannered and lithe Martin was viciously tracked down and murdered out of cold-blooded spite by an unrepentant racist.

As the details continue to emerge, I feel the facts of the matter only contribute to an overall picture that is growing increasingly vague.

Zimmerman, himself raised in a family of immigrants, was registered with the Democratic Party. Martin had prior run-ins with the law over a misdemeanor offense. Zimmerman had injuries consistent with a physical assault, and yet he was 100 pounds heavier, 10 years older, and armed.  Some witnesses say this, others say that…  and yet the whole truth remains elusive.

Meanwhile radicals on both sides seem to prefer a “string ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” approach rather than bother with allowing the constitutionally-established mechanism of our country to do its job. Namely, the judicial process.

But to take this to an even higher authority, I count myself amongst those who bear the name of Jesus Christ. Thus, I am held to an even higher standard.

I mourn with the family that has lost a child. It is a pain that I know can never truly heal. I am saddened that Martin’s life was taken so needlessly. I am angry that Zimmerman continued to pursue a “suspicious” individual, even after local law enforcement told him to stand down. I am frustrated that self-proclaimed activists are using this incident to further their own trite agendas.

But it is my hope that we, as a society, would stop for a moment and learn. Learn something from this sordid turn of events.

Reinhold Niebuhr famously quipped that “all human sin seems so much worse in its consequences than in its intentions,” and it is in situations like this where such would certainly hold true.

Our actions have consequences, consequences that span much farther than we can even hope to imagine.

As we should have with the Duke lacrosse players of 2006, let us withhold from hasty generalizations about what may or may not have happened…  at least until more of the truth can be winnowed away from the false fires of obtuse induction.

Thus we all, in seeking truth, must first know all sides of the story.


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