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My Take: Where’s white church outrage over Trayvon Martin?
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People president Ben Jealous at a town hall meeting at Allen Chapel AME Church in Sanford, Florida about on Trayvon Martin’s killing.
March 22nd, 2012
12:44 PM ET

My Take: Where’s white church outrage over Trayvon Martin?

Editor’s Note: Mark I. Pinsky is a former religion reporter for the Orlando Sentinel and author of “Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion.”

By Mark I. Pinsky, Special to CNN

Orlando, Florida (CNN) - In the classic Sherlock Holmes story “The Silver Blaze,” the key clue turns out to be a watchdog that didn’t bark when it should have.

In the aftermath of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, not far from here, the mystifying missing element so far has been white outrage, especially on the part of central Florida’s religious leaders.

Few if any white clergy have spoken up to demand that the killing be fully investigated. None can be seen standing by the African-American preachers calling for justice, or marching with Martin’s family members. Why?

As someone who covered this area’s faith community for 15 years, I don’t think the answer is racism as much as it is cultural callousness. Week in and week out, the violent deaths and disappearances of poor, black and brown people – especially immigrants – merit a one- or two-paragraph story in The Orlando Sentinel’s (my old newspaper’s) police blotter. So when a middle-class black teen is gunned down, the reaction tends to be a shrug of the shoulders.

In this part of the country gated communities are considered sacred ground, as much or more than houses of worship. The fear of these preserves being violated is enough to shift the presumption of innocence to the presumption of guilt, including among churchgoers. Couple this with a made-for-vigilantes “Stand Your Ground” gun law and, until recently, there is no reason to question the indifference of local law enforcement in investigating Trayvon Martin’s death.

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While central Florida’s modern image is Sun Belt suburban, a theme park mecca, the region has a dark and violent past when it comes to race:

- In 1920, an attempt by two black men to vote in the town of Ocoee led to a race riot that spread to Apopka, Orlando and Winter Springs. When the smoke cleared, Ocoee had been ethnically cleansed with more than 500 African residents driven off. The town remained essentially white for the next 40 years.

- In 1923, a white mob’s attack on the black community of Rosewood burned the hamlet to the ground and scattered its residents forever

- On Christmas Day, 1951, Florida NAACP Executive Director Harry T. Moore, an anti-lynching activist, and his wife were blown up in their wood frame home by Klansmen, including local law enforcement officers. Harry Moore died en route to a Sanford hospital, where his wife died nine days later.

No one was brought to justice for any of these crimes, and white churches had little to say on behalf of the victims.

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Race was the great moral issue in 20th-century America. And one of the burdens of Southern history is the silence – with a few conspicuous and heroic exceptions – of white religious leaders during the Civil Rights movement, especially white churches. There were times and places where silence bled into complicity. When Northern clergy came to the South to join protests, as often as not their local denominational counterparts were resentful.

To its credit, in 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention acknowledged and repented for nearly 150 years of support for slavery, segregation and racial discrimination, saying that “racial prejudice and discrimination are not compatible with the Gospel” and “a deplorable sin.” Since then, Southern Baptists – the nation’s largest Protestant denomination - have made enormous strides in obliterating the color line in its churches and its relations with other denominations.

But in the case of Trayvon Martin, the white religious community – including those affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, this area’s dominant affiliation - has so far been silent and invisible.

Some black Christians are beginning to question this silence. At a predominately African-American Seventh-day Adventist congregation last Saturday, during a previously scheduled discussion of “racial progress,” a man stood up and asked why his denomination had not yet spoken or acted on the Trayvon Martin controversy.

The Rev. James Coffin, a white Adventist minister and executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida, who was one of the speakers, admitted that the man was right. Coffin later wrote the man an impassioned e-mail saying his point was valid, and acknowledging his guilt for his inaction. So far, “it's the victim's affinity group that has to go to battle for him,” Coffin said.

“African-Americans shouldn't be waging this battle on their own,” Coffin told me. “While it certainly has racial overtones and undertones, it's a problem that's bigger than just racism. So for our own well-being and self-serving purposes, if for no other reason, non-African-Americans need to get involved.”

At long last, some other white church leaders are speaking out.

In a letter issued Wednesday entitled “A Statement of Support for the Martin Family and Call for Just Prosecution,” the Florida Council of Churches, which represents mainline Protestant congregations, said that the state “should be a place where a person of any color can walk in a neighborhood without fear of violence or being presumed a suspicious threat. Florida should be a place where the use of deadly force is rare and uncommon.

“The Martin family and the community at large need protection from vigilantism and assurance that Florida's streets are open to all people without respect to the color of their skin,” the statement continued. The council does not speak for the state’s evangelical churches.

Tardy or tepid, it is never too late for religious leaders to demand justice. Which is what they still need to do. A rally calling for justice for Trayvon Martin is scheduled for Sanford's Shiloh Baptist Church, Thursday night would be a good place to start.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark I. Pinsky.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (832 Responses)
  1. Martez Red

    Somebody please show me where Zimmerman was maimed. You probably can't prove that.

    April 1, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  2. Chief

    Where's the "white church outrage"? Maybe, with the exception of a few nut-case groups like Westboro Baptist, they have the good sense to not let their emotions dictate their actions. Maybe they realize that it's too early in the case for there to be any legitimate reason to be outraged. There are far too many unknowns in this case. The only thing that anyone knows for certain at this point is that George Zimmerman did kill Trayvon Martin. Beyond that, no-one, including CNN, really "KNOWS" anything. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are willing to condemn someone based solely on what they "think" happened.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Sarah

      IN reply to Chief: There is more known than the fact that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. We know Trayvon was unarmed. We also know that the police and DA have already decided not to charge George Zimmerman. We know from police videos that Mr. Zimmerman does not look injured in any way. The police in the video are also being very relaxed in their treatment of Mr. Zimmerman in the video–not what one usually sees when the police have a killer in their custody.

      April 1, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  3. JH

    One more thing.. GZ and his 'people' say that Trayvon was beating him and banging his head oon the contcrete.. even if true this would take 2 hands.. so no weapon..

    Again, why use the gun?

    No matter how you look at this thing, IMO, GZ is guilty of killing Trayvon. There has been no version put forth by GZ that would justify using a gun, and shooting to kill – in self defense.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Knowledge4Real

      That is a stupid comment. There is nothing an unarmed person can do that warrants being shot. How about I start punching you in your face and beating your head on the concrete and reach for your gun and see how long that goes on before you shoot me.

      April 3, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  4. JH

    1. I'm white and I'm very outraged – as is virtually every white person I know or have come in contact with recently..

    2. For the sake of argument (devil's advocate here) lets say Trayvon did confront GZ – if so he likely did so out of a mix of fear and self defense as we know he knew he was being followed, but the big question is.. considering the 100lb difference in size, if GZ was (wrongly and stupidly IMO) going to shoot his gun, why not shoot to injure and not to kill?

    3. I am also outraged at the talk about hoodies, where is the talk about guns??? The hoodie didn't do the killing!

    4. Again, IMO, regardless of which side's versions are correct – GZ should NOT have used the gun. With a 100lb advantage he should have been easily able to pin Trayvon and hold him until someone came.

    5. GZ should have done what he was told: not follow Trayvon.

    These are just a few reasons why I feel he should be arrested, and tried, and why I feel a jury commited to justice and the law would find him guilty.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • Sarah

      Excellent outline of a number of important points. I would also point out that George Zimmerman has history of violence, against police and his former fiance, and Travon did not have a history of violence.

      April 1, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Knowledge4Real

      @Sarah – Way to stay mis-informed. Trayvon "swung on a bus driver" according to his cousin. Took and sold drugs. Was suspended from school 3 times in one year! and called himself "NO_LIMIT_N*GGA" without the asterick. You know nothing about Trayvon and about Zimmerman and about what happened that night. So do the world a favor and shut up and let the investigation complete to get a better picture before you start talking about what you "know".

      April 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  5. Michael Lewis

    What happened to Trayvon was sad and senseless. First of all, Trayvon was not committing any crime. He was walking on the sidewalk. Secondly, the police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon, Zimmerman continues to follow Trayvon and confronts him. Third, Zimmerman is 100 pounds bigger and he has a gun, who would probably be afraid of who? Fourth, the video shown of Zimmerman being taken in for questioning do not appear to support the idea that Zimmerman was being attacked and in fear for his life. Fifth, because Trayvon was not committing a crime and Zimmerman was not a police officer, Trayvon had no obligation to answer any of Zimmerman's questions. Sixth, if anyone would qualify to use the stand your ground law, it would be Trayvon. All he knew was that this man that he did not know was following him and had a gun. He was very likely in fear for his life; now we know that that fear was justified.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:22 am |
  6. 23 from texas

    Color of skin should be to describe what someone looks like. Not who they are, what they do, where they go to church, what they believe, who they go to bat for. I for one have friends of every background. I feel bad for Travon's family. I also think that I in GZ's place would have reacted much in the same way. Not because I am a racist... but because I have a right to check someone out in my neighborhood without fear of them becoming violent. The only mistake here I think was due to fear on the part of TM... he should have just said "Hey you watchin the game? Its only halftime." Than continued walking. Everything can be solved if we trusted each other and didn’t automatically think someone that is a different color than I am has bad intentions for me! He was killed because of his lack of ability to judge the situation, due to his age most likely. I don’t blame him, but I cannot blame GZ either. It’s all a tragedy and there is pain and remorse on both sides of the issue.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • Mr. Postman

      If you walk up to a stranger whom you believe is committing a crime, as Zimmerman did with Martin, you have to expect that it will turn violent. That is why the police warn you NOT to do this, especially neighborhood watch programs. You're supposed to call the police. If you accuse an innocent person of committing a crime, you also must expect repercussions. That is why you should NOT do this. Trayvon Martin didn't have to say anything to him. Anyone who is being bothered by a stranger when they are doing nothing wrong has the right to say "F off!" or say nothing and go about your business. You're not obligated to tell a stranger your business unless you are on their property. Funny how some people think that some people have to give their alibi on command at all times.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  7. fiftyfive

    I think it is tragic this boy was killed for his racial profile, the killer was let free, and the police treated it so simple. Yes there is racism in the US, but I live in DC worked in a Anacostia school (the worst and most dangerous district). My job was to help "troubled students'. When I worked there, all the black female teachers YELLED at the kids "Darrel, SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!" "Im gonna smack YOU!" "Im gonna tell your parents your the worst!"- this is why many blacks are poorly educated, drop out, cant find jobs, get into trouble AND RUIN IT FOR OTHER LAW ABIDING blacks. The adults and Parents need to take responsibility. If you really want to make a change, work on your home, neighborhood, AS WELL AS raising awareness. The government can only do so much. The rest is up to you. Not meant to offend anyone- ride the X2 in DC if you dont understand me

    March 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  8. leila

    I have seen and heard news reports of mothers schooling their sons of color on what 'not to wear' so that they will not be singled out or made into a target. We cannot do anything for Trayvon but we can be proactive with our own sons and daughters. In my community, wearing a hoodie in the dark is a red flag for residents IRRESPECTIVE of race. Several weeks ago, a strange woman, a WHITE woman, came to my door after dark. I was apprehensive to answer the door because to me, if you are concealing your face from others, you may not be entirely honest. However, she was wearing her hoodie because it was cold. Yet I remained cautious nonetheless as I would expect anyone would. My sons like to walk the neighborhood and my youngest jogs late at night and wears a hoodie. After THIS incident in Florida, NO MORE! I am too scared to allow my boys to wear anything that conceals their face. It is the nature of our society to second guess each other's motives.

    March 27, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  9. Still Divided

    I got slammed on this thread for suggesting there's a good reason Zimmerman hasn't been charged-be acted in self defense. Now that the facts are coming out, with all of the corroborating evidence, looks like I might have been right. I'm still without a clear opinion since the whole story has yet to be told. But on first blush, GZ's story looks like the real deal.

    1) Stranger in the neighborhood spotted by neighborhood watch.
    2) Police called.
    3) GZ follows the stranger. ("Eyes on" prevents crime, BTW, in case this stranger was up to no good.)
    4) Stranger turns and attacks GZ.
    5) Stranger breaks GZ's nose, get on top of him, and begins bashing his head into the pavement.
    6) GZ calls for help, but no one comes to his aid.
    7) GZ uses his legally carried gun and kills the stranger who's attacking him in his own neighborhood.
    8) Stranger is black, so well-oiled politicosocial machine starts yelling "racist!"
    9) Police investigate and find no crime in man defending himself from a brutal attack.
    10) True racists cput bounty on GZ's head.

    Now, you wonder why some white people are getting tired?

    March 27, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • leila

      @Still Divided....I agree with you that the public is way too hasty in making judgments BEFORE the facts come out. First of all, the police are never at liberty to release all the details of any investigation. I always thought there had to be a reason Zimmerman was not arrested, namely that we didn't and still don't have all the facts. Thank goodness we live in a country that presumes innocence until proven guilty. The problem people have is that the cogs of justice don't spin fast enough for them so they wish to be judge, jury, and executioner. I have reserved judgment because I want to see this incident played out; I am sure there will be a law suit against the police dept. and a wrongful death suit against Zimmerman. Personally, I live in a crime ridden area where gangs run the streets, literally and figuratively. I DO check out any strange person, male or female wandering around, even more so if I cannot see their face! If you are hiding your face with a hoodie....well you are asking for people to look at you twice.

      March 27, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Chad

      Two corrections. One, you state that in this case the stranger (Martin) was up to no good when he had been watching a basketball game and during halftime went out to get some candy and a drink. He was simply returning to the house so how is that "up to no good"? Also, you state that Martin attacked Zimmerman. That fact is still in dispute. True, Zimmerman showed signs of being hit but we don't know how it came to that. Based on what was overheard on the phone (Martin's girlfriend), Zimmerman approached Martin first. As far as the actual altercation, neither you nor I know at this time.

      March 28, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Still Divided

      @Chad
      I didn't say he was up to no good. I said "eyes on" prevents crime IN CASE the stranger is up to no good. Surely you don't suggest we shouldn't watch strangers in our neighborhoods, even if it does make them uncomfortable. Frankly, I don't WANT strangers to feel comfortable walking around my neighborhood. Reality is real, and my family's safety trumps strangers' sensibilities any day.

      True, we don't KNOW TM attacked GZ, but since TM had no injuries before being shot, GZ has a broken nose and multiple cranial injuries, and 2 witnesses saw TM on top of GZ, I'd say it's a safe conclusion.

      @Leila: I agree completely. It's common sense to teach our kids that aligning themselves with problematic subcultures makes them a target. It would be naive to do otherwise.

      March 28, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Mr. Postman

      Just because Zimmerman was injured does not mean he did not attack first. He could have attacked and lost. You think in every fight whoever throws the first punch is the winner? Martin could have started the fight but we don't know. But we do know that when it comes to violence Zimmerman is the one with violence in his background, not Martin. Zimmerman has an arrest record, not Martin.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Martez Red

      Many of these people are incompetent, and should keep their traps SEALED. How many blacks are in the ground because of lying white folks. The problem that exists is that blacks will continue to die, and the sun tanners will use any excuse to justify a black being murdered. Sick.

      April 1, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  10. Jojo

    So, because black church leaders are crying racism, white church leaders should too? Why is it everytime a black person is killed or attacked, it is racist, but it is never racist when it is the other way around? You think blacks can't be racist? Give me a break. For every racist white, there is a racist black. Zimmerman was bloodied, face and the back of his head. However, Zimmerman was found standing over Trayman's face down body. Too many facts are missing, like where was Trayman shot? This white woman is just waiting for all the facts to come out. In the meantime, I think it is appropriate to mourn the loss of a young life, and grieve for his parents. Why don't we focus on that?

    March 26, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • Sarah

      This White woman knows that there are WAY more black people killed for being "black" than white people for being "white." This white woman also knows that if there was no public outcry at this time, George Zimmerman would NEVER be investigated. How do I know that? The police and DA did not press charges and did not collect any evidence (carbo testing, DNA, etc) to evaluate whether George Zimmerman was telling the truth or not. If people were not making noise right now, it owuld all be swept under the rug.

      April 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  11. JR

    There is plenty of white outrage. I dare say that as many if not more white people have condemned GZ without even getting the whole story. You can find plenty, and I mean plenty, of instances of white people condemning this. On this flip side, show me black person who thinks GZ is innocent? Just one. I saw a recent poll that showed over 90% of blacks thought GZ was guilty. I think its actually 99.9%. I can show you show tons of white and blacks who think hes guity, because the media is only showng one side of the story. The side that generates revenue and ratings for the crappy publications like this one. Now whos racist?

    March 26, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  12. wait for it...

    Remember the Duke LaCrosse scandal?
    Maybe we should wait for all of the facts to surface before getting angry.
    Misleading the public by showing pictures of the victim when he was 12 years old instead of 17 years old, is not a good way to start your search for the truth.

    March 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Jojo

      Well said!

      March 26, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  13. Daniel Masela

    The President of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the North American Division has issued an official statement. Here's the entire statement;

    "Leaders and members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America join with others in the deep concern of the senseless violent acts surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin one month ago. Young Trayvon fits the description of many of our youth, many of our own children. We join in mourning with his family and friends and pray for justice to be found in this situation and the love of Christ to be manifested in our communities."

    March 26, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  14. Daniel Masela

    The President of the Seventh-day Adventist in the North America has issued an official statement. Here's the entire statement;

    "Leaders and members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America join with others in the deep concern of the senseless violent acts surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin one month ago. Young Trayvon fits the description of many of our youth, many of our own children. We join in mourning with his family and friends and pray for justice to be found in this situation and the love of Christ to be manifested in our communities."

    March 26, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  15. simon

    white kid light on fire by two b lacks, OK
    student shot by three b lacks, OK
    shopping cart dumped on wh ite woman by black kids, OK
    and you never do nothing
    funny your own afri can people en slaved you and then you blame the white man for sla very

    March 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • Jojo

      True, but only half truth. White people provided a huge market. Howevver, it is well known that people were enslaving others for millenium before, on all continents. Is there any race who has been above it? I don't think so.

      March 26, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  16. Zimmerman Guilty

    I wonder what caliber of gun Jesus would carry?

    March 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • BlueJeans

      9mm

      March 26, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
  17. cochran

    I hate to say it but the reason "the pale ones" arent rallying behind this is that the race card has been wasted on the o.j. Simpson's of the world. Don't use your most potent weapon in every battle and it might actually have an effect when it really matters.

    March 26, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • Chris Sanchez

      Well said!!

      March 26, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  18. FOX NEWS FAIR AND BALANCED

    TWO BRITISH TOURISTS MURDERED BY TWO BLACK BLACK BLACK BOYS. ARE JESSE AND SHARPTON GOING TO RALLY FOR THE TWO WHITE TOURISTS? SHOULD BLACK CHURCHES BE OUTRAGED OVER THAT.
    BUT WE SHOULD NOT BE AFRAID OF YOUNG BLACKS?? ARE YOU SERIOUS?

    March 25, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • Michelle

      no need for anything other than an apology from the US govt. He was arrested, tried and convicted. He is now serving life without parole. Zimmerman is still sitting home watching the neighborhood while Trayvonn's parents have had to bury their 17 year old child.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  19. Debbie Krasyk

    The colored man escalated the even to violence. When he started a physical altercation, he put his life on the line. I am outraged at the threats against Zimmerman by the Black Panthers and others.

    March 25, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Still Divided

      Debbie, I agree with you. BUT. "Colored man," in America, is considered a slur. Best not to use it.

      March 26, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Martez Red

      Debbie you are either mentally challenged or just complete stupid. How can you sit there and type your response stating that The colored man escalated the even to violence. When he started a physical altercation, he put his life on the line. I am outraged at the threats against Zimmerman by the Black Panthers and others. There were no signs of this piece of s@@@ having any marks on his body. The black panthers should have gotten involved years ago when whites were murdering innocent blacks for no reason. The black panthers should have gotten involved years ago; and, now all of sudden, they want to react to the death of Martin. I do not give a crap about if he is hispanic or white hispanic, they are racist people too. There are blacks who are racist. Oh, not to mention that there are 100,000's of whites who are damn sure racist.

      April 1, 2012 at 9:34 am |
  20. john smith

    JERRY, JERRY, JERRY, JERRY!!!!!!!

    March 25, 2012 at 12:15 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.