Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue

It has been, most certainly, an emotional 24 hours since the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman was handed down. So much has already been written and said about the verdict and what it says about our court system and what it says about our nation. As I always try to do, I have taken time to think about what to post before I write anything and I feel that I have a lot more thinking to do. But, I want to share some of my thoughts here.

It bears remembering that this jury was not asked to rule on the presence or absence of racist attitudes in this country. They were not asked to rule on whether African Americans  get fair deals in the court system. They were not asked to judge gun laws in light of  the tragic numbers of Americans killed each year  nor were they asked to judge the laws of the state of Florida regarding self-defense or any other matter.

They were asked to judge whether, according to the laws of the state of Florida, the state had proved its assertion that George Zimmerman was guilty of 2nd degree murder or manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt. They performed their duty and I would like to believe that they did so honorably: that they truly and sincerely felt that, at the very least, the prosecution’s case left reasonable doubt.

While I, like many of us, followed the trial carefully and have our own perspectives on the tragedy,  I was not there on the night in question and I was not in the courtroom to hear the testimony in its entirety. And therefore, I  can not say without question that justice was not done last night.

But, I can certainly say that, regardless of the verdict, our country needs to confront the racist attitudes which persist and the inequalities in the court system. The statistics show over and over again that African Americans are more likely to be convicted of crimes than whites and that is a tragedy in this country. Whatever happened on that night last year in Sanford, Florida, racial profiling does take place among law enforcement and security officials in this country. Our gun laws need to be addressed  and the “stand your ground” law and others like it need to be re-evaluated.

Each of these would have been just as serious an issue had the jury found George Zimmerman guilty.  We must seek justice in this country for all.

The family of Trayvon Martin, should be in our minds tonight. They have suffered a horrendous tragedy, losing a son, who set out to buy candy at a store and was killed on the street. The tragedy of his death and the death of so many young people like him is a national shame. Whatever happened that evening, the fact that the tragedy that the Martin family has felt has been felt by so many other families in this country is a national disgrace.

In the book of Lamentations, which we will read tomorrow evening on Tisha B’av, we read: ‘bacho tevkeh balyalyah” “She, (the city of Jerusalem), cries out in the night” with no one to comfort her.

The family of Trayvon Martin and all of the others who cry need not just our comfort and our prayers but our dedication and determination to fight racism in this country and to work to perfect our system of justice. More than they need words of comfort, they need our sincere efforts to insure that all of us can walk the streets free of fear in a nation which truly seeks justice and equality for all.

I do want to share one other thought in the face of this issue. Our son, Avi, who is a student at Emory University in Atlanta, shared some important words on facebook today. I think his eloquent words deserve to be shared:

“In all probability, justice was not done last night. However, we cannot equate this to a failure of our judicial system- last night it worked. It worked because a man convicted in the court of public opinion was acquitted by a court of law. It worked because the state could not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a man was guilty. Before you talk about how ashamed you are to be an American, consider how lucky you are to live in a country where you really are “innocent until proven guilty.” How many people on earth only dream of living in such a country? America still has a lot of work to do on many fronts, but we cannot forget how much progress we have made.”
I agree with Avi. Many throughout the world would dream of such a system of justice. But, he is also correct about the future. We certainly have a lot of work to do.
As we observe the fast of Tisha B’av tomorrow evening, we remember and consider the forces which destroyed Jerusalem in Temple times. May we dedicate ourselves to recognize that one of those forces: baseless hatred and division, threatens our nation today. We need to heal ourselves and our nation.
May the memory of Trayvon Martin bring us together as a nation and may he be kept in the “bond of life” inspiring us to work for the improvement of our nation and our world. May we truly seek justice for all.

4 thoughts on “Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue

  1. Laurel F.

    I was inspired by the verdict, and believe that justice was done. Zimmerman wasn’t defending himself against someone buying candy, he was defending himself against someone bashing his head against the sidewalk. It doesn’t serve the cause of justice when people cry “racism” where it doesn’t apply, or when they make excuses for people of any race who are violent aggressors.

  2. Keith L T Alexander

    If you consider that the Judicial System is a reflection of our imperfect racist society, then Yes, it worked. Like Rabbi said “I was not there on the night in question…” We don’t know exactly what went on that night. What we do know is that A) stand your ground doesn’t say you must kill to defend yourself. If Zimmerman was under attack, he could have chose to shoot Martin in the arm or leg-enough to suspend the physical conflict, and give Zimmerman time to flee. As much as we would like to believe that the jury acted honorably, there is evidence that suggests they did not B) reports came out after the trial that state the jury was not sequestered, and was exposed to public opinion while they were active jurors, indeed one juror kept notes in anticipation of selling a book on the deliberations/trial and was told a Guilty verdict would fetch her a higher price. I am ashamed that despite many good things about the United States, that racist segments of our society continue to influence the very institutions we rely on for Justice, and for a balanced, honest and open discussion. The same individuals and groups have not the slightest motivation to honestly look inward at their own attitudes and beliefs for racist attitudes and opinions that continue to pervert Justice and significant social progress. Do we question that nearly 80% of the nearly 2 million incarcerated citizens are African-American? Do we question that virtually all the not-guilty verdicts in cases where SYG laws were invoked were for white people who killed black men or women? Yet when we say ‘if he was bashing my head against the concrete, I would have shot him too.’ or ‘They weren’t asked to judge the racism or the gun laws or the SYG laws in this country, aren’t we also internalizing the uglier attitudes of our country? Aren’t were implying that it was OK to kill another man?

    1. The Stand Your Ground laws need to be re-evaluated. I believe the law as it is understood is wrong and opens the door for so many confrontations which did not need to take place. In addition, as with so many of our laws, it is not applied fairly and equitably. The points you raise about the judicial system in this country, are, sadly, legitimate. The statistics are there for anyone to see and we need to confront them and work to correct this racial bias. In the years since segregation ended, there have been much progress in terms of equality in this country but there is a long way to go. I believe that the judicial system is our institution which is most deeply in need of change.

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