I’ve been consumed with work, which is one reason I didn’t blog earlier this week. But I’ve also been thinking about the Trayvon Martin situation. I’ve turned it over many times in my head and read many related articles. Then, another article appeared this week about an Iraqi-American woman in El Cajon, California. She was killed in her house. She had been living in the United States since 1995. According to the article, the family recently found a note taped to their door, “This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist.”
I didn’t preach about Trayvon Martin because it all seemed pretty complex to me. From all that I’ve been reading it was more than just race. I didn’t wear a hoodie, either.
How is it, though, that Shaima Alawadi’s name doesn’t get the same play? Why aren’t people wearing head scarves?
At the risk of diminishing Trayvon Martin, we might want to think of both of these people together. We should remember that neither deserved to die so brutally. Their deaths were more more than a tragedy – they are an indictment.
We can look at Trayvon Martin through a racial lens, but as we learn more and more about Zimmerman, it gets a little murky. Yet, when we take these two deaths together, one cannot ignore that neither were white. Both would be “other” (as am I). So, race, although not necessarily through our typical social construct, was a factor.
Let’s not delude ourselves. Our nation has a long way to go around racial relations. Even though we have a black president and we may be able to sing Kumbya, it doesn’t mean we can sing in harmony, let alone in tune. (As evidence I submit the birthers. I wish the mainstream media was more prophetic to call them racists – and they include those GOP leaders who didn’t denounce them as such, but that’s another blog.)
I can’t not address the “Stand Your Ground” law, though. We have a national obsession with gun ownership – it’s practically sacred. A Trayvon Martin shooting was inevitable.
The law, whether intended or not, opens the opportunity to mete out vigilante justice. Police are trained not to discharge their firearms without adequate reason and that when they do, the situation results in an investigation. Basically, discharging a firearm as a part of law enforcement has accountability, which is not the case in a “Stand Your Ground” law. Why should a civilian without training have minimal or no accountability for using his/her firearm? This law is a recipe for disaster – the consequence was Trayvon Martin.
But what about Shaima Alawadi? Wasn’t her death a type of vigilante justice, too? She and her family had been living in this country for 17 years. She raised her children here. She had also been called a terrorist before, as well. She wasn’t shot, but died of a severe blow to her head. The police, however, have yet to rule this a hate crime.
We can look at both Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi separately. But when we look at them as unrelated, I think we lose a larger and more truthful picture.
Race is certainly a factor. But it is not exclusively race in the traditional black-white (or in the case of Trayvon Martin, black – Hispanic) construct. It is white – non-white (we can all probably cite cases). But if we think only in terms of race we overlook other points of tension:
- native – immigrant
- Christian – Muslim
- wealthy – poor
Fear seems to lie underneath these tensions. Fear motivates states to pass “Stand Your Ground” legislation. Fear probably keeps us enamored with the idea that gun ownership is sacred. Fear informs our inability to embrace the “other” in our communities, which inhibits our ability to care about them as well.
What is the source of this fear? I wish I knew.
Maybe we can look at this through the story when Jesus walked on water (Mat. 14:22-33).
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Maybe we’re fearful because we don’t have enough faith. And I don’t want to imply that this story applies only to Christians or people of faith. Ideally, faith in God. But it’s also faith in our institutions (such as law enforcement) that we don’t have to resort to vigilante justice. Do we also lack faith in our ability to find common ground with the “other?” Do we lack faith to “step out of our boat,” even in the midst of a storm?
If we’re going to wear hoodies for Trayvon Martin, we should also wear head scarves for Shaima Alawadi. They’re not unrelated. And maybe the way we’ve lifted up one and virtually ignored the other should tell us something about ourselves, too.