Thinking about life, faith and the world.

Premature Judgment – Part 2

You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly–Leviticus 19:15

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman weren’t supposed to be the topic of Part 2. But this case has gotten under my skin, and a thought came to me as I read the latest developments. For what it’s worth, here it is:

It’s just possible that Trayvon and George made the same catastrophic misjudgment. George simply made it first, at the moment he overstepped the “observe and report” role and acted in a way that attracted Trayvon’s attention. It doesn’t really matter how far he followed Trayvon, nor if or when he broke off the pursuit. He perceived a threat, and he in turn set himself up to be perceived as a threat. The moment Trayvon became aware of George’s presence, they both were standing their ground on a very slippery slope.

The rhetoric of some of George’s supporters has an undercurrent of accusation toward Trayvon, as if he was in fact up to no good. It’s important to remember that whatever he may have done in his past, on that night he was just a kid walking home from the store. He had nothing to hide, and so George’s appearance on the scene didn’t prompt an “Uh-oh, I’m going to get caught” reaction. The unwanted, inexplicable attention of this stranger in street clothes must have triggered plain fear.

So why didn’t Trayvon just cover the little remaining ground to his father’s home and leave the danger behind? We’ll never know, but we do know this: there’s a growing consensus that people in their late teens and early 20s – especially males, possibly up to age 25 – have underdeveloped brains, specifically in the area that assesses risk. Whatever Trayvon’s size, in important ways he was still a kid. George was, or should have been, the one exercising adult judgment.

Instead, perhaps both George and Trayvon made premature judgments about the strangers in the darkness, and rather than head for safety, they took it upon themselves to investigate. They came together, each seeing the other as the bad guy. The result of their mutual misjudgment has been a growing pile of other premature judgments.

I promised a post about injustice, and that’s certainly the central issue. Here’s my take on it, so far: If Trayvon did anything wrong that night, he has paid the ultimate, wildly disproportionate price. As for George, he deserves a fair, fact-based verdict, and if the right one is not guilty, so be it. More likely, I think, is manslaughter. As more facts emerge, it’s getting harder to cling to the picture of George as a racist demon or Trayvon as a blameless cherub. They were both complicated and flawed, as humans tend to be. But Trayvon is needlessly dead, and it’s hard to see George escaping any culpability.

Many people on both sides of this case have rushed to premature judgments. I could be guilty of the same with my own speculations here. In the early stages of the case, I believe some in law enforcement also made premature judgments based on the players involved. Preconceptions about the one who died and the one who lived carried some officials to a hurried conclusion. Even if George is exonerated, the case deserved a harder look than it would have gotten had Trayvon’s family kept silent.

What’s a Christian to do? If there’s naked injustice when all is said and done here, don’t be afraid to speak up against it, and to offer aid and comfort to its victims if you can. It sounds like a pat answer, but what else is there? If we know what is right and don’t do it, we’ll be the ones under judgment, and this judgment will be right on time.


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