Black clergy stand their ground against Zimmerman verdict

Freddie Allen | 7/29/2013, 5:39 p.m.
Just as they did during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, last Saturday’s demonstrations in more than 100 cities ...
Rev. Michael Walrond, senior pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, at a press conference in front of Justice Department. Freddie Allen

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Just as they did during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, last Saturday’s demonstrations in more than 100 cities around the nation to protest the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman on charges that he murdered 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, many ministers were in the forefront of protests at federal buildings in their communities.

They started off by standing with Rev. Al Sharpton who announced plans to contest Stand Your Ground laws in Florida and 28 other states. More than 20 Black clergy leaders joined Sharpton last week in front of the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., to express their concerns about the Stand Your Ground self-defense statutes and the dangerous message that the Zimmerman verdict carried.

Sharpton said that if we don’t change the Stand Your Ground laws, we risk having more Martin cases, because the law emboldens people.

“There is a license through the George Zimmerman verdict that any White male that feels threatened can shoot a Black boy and be justified,” said Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative. “We’re going to have to teach our boys how to be safe. We’re going to have to teach our young boys about what the law says what are their rights and how to protect themselves and using a buddy system. We’re going to have to do something significant to protect our young boys.”

Other Black pastors said it’s not just our young Black men that need an education, but also anyone that believes that the election of President Obama ushered in a new, post-racial chapter in American society.

“When people believe that race is not a factor in the Trayvon Martin case, when people believe that class and culture are not [factors] in this case, there is some serious education that needs to be done,” said Rev. Lisa Jenkins, pastor of Saint Matthews Baptist Church in Harlem.

Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, Md., said that many people fooled themselves into believing that now that we have a Black president, being Black is no longer an issue.

“That’s very far from the truth,” Bryant said.

Rev. L.B. West, pastor of the Mount Airy Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said that Black clergy members have always played critical leadership roles in shaping local, state and national dialogue surrounding social justice and civil rights issues. West added that it was also critical for their congregations to see that they also struggled with the not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial. West said that he was personally angry that a young Black boy, that did nothing wrong, could lose his life, and no one is held accountable.

“It’s important for people to see that even spiritual people can have anger and it’s a righteous anger,” West said. The Washington pastor added that the anger surrounding the not guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial needed to be channeled into constructive acts instead of destructive ones.

Sharpton’s National Action Network organized “Justice for Trayvon” vigils in 100 cities on Saturday, July 20. Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton joined Sharpton for the vigil and rally in New York City, N.Y.