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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. sureyado

    white outrage over a latino American killing an african American yes this makes sense

    March 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Peter Conway

      Latino/Mexican, is considered in the white race.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Rob

      White is only a category when someone wants to blame the 'establishment' or legally discriminate. Sometimes people are considered 'white' sometimes they are considered 'non-white'. Everyone seems to pick categories that are convenient at the moment. How about forgetting about these categories all together. I'm not even sure how 'white' I am. Are you talking North African White, Mediterranean White? Northern European White? Middle Eastern White? Latin American White? What IS 'white' anyway?!

      March 22, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  2. robert

    I tell you where we are, we are at work. Doing the job of 3 because all the blacks didn't show up for work and we have to back fill. You people are morons. A majority of folks weren't even there. You create racism. NAACP, what does that stand for??? Colored. Why is that even allowed if there is no race. A lot of questions have not been answered. A you folks want racism stop, the you created it you stop it. Can't believe your actions. As usual you whine, and pout and don't work. Well you keep laying off work and the spanish people will just take your jobs. How is that going to help the situation?

    March 22, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Rob

      Who are 'you folks'? I know many people of different races (including white) that goof off at work and I know of people from different races (including white) that work hard. Try a little harder to figure out why the people you are observing behave the way they do. If you bother to look deeper it doesn't really have anything to do with what race they happen to be. That goes for whites (non-race) as well.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  3. Peter Conway

    Has the case been made that race was an issue? Sure, there are people screaming "racist", but where is the proof.
    It's a shame that the young man was killed. I lost a 17 year old son, and the loss is unamaginable. There will be no winners here. I doubt mr Zimmerman can imagine what he has done to this family. I don't know his guilt. Neither does anyone else, right now. We are a country of law, not opinion. Let the laws work. Pray for the loss. Put value in the lives of those who live among us.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  4. Sly

    Don't worry – the decent person that will shortly put a bullet through Mr. Zimmerman's head will most likely be white.

    This dog does not need a trial – someone should pull a KKK noose out and string this white boy up pronto.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Carla

      He is not white. He is a Mexican!

      March 22, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Rob

      Sly, Carla, stop! The investigators, the courts and jury, should all decide what when racism is involved. But we should not be focused on race. We should focus on the fact that this innocent boy was murdered. That fact alone is so far from 'ok' that it's splitting hairs to worry about race. It's not 'ok' to kill kids. It's simply horrific.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  5. TMcLain

    A nut job who happens to be of Hispanic origin hunts down a kid in a hoodie and shoots him because he falsely believes the child is up to no good. Now the writer of this article wants to know why the white community is not outraged.
    I'm tired of people telling me how I should react because of my race. I am devastated for the family of that beautiful boy. I which I could reach out to the family and help some way. This writer doesn't have any say in that.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • dean

      He's pretending to know how people feel–enough said.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  6. HawaiiGuest

    @JOSE0311USMC

    Why do you continue to bring up that the neighborhood was robbed by blacks prior to the shooting. This in no way gives any justification for Zimmerman to profile, stalk, and confront someone. The kid had a can of iced tea, have you ever seen a robber walking in plain view with iced tea right before a robbery? He was also instructed by police dispatch to not follow or confront the possible suspect. Zimmerman went looking for trouble, found it, and looks to be getting away with it due to a stupid law.
    1 other thing. All caps doesn't make your point any more valid, it just makes you look stupid.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  7. RonSr.

    This is a sad day for Florida, When a trigger happy wannabe cop MURDERS a young man , black, white, yellow or brown, it doesn't matter his color. Everyone should be outraged , Zimmerman should be arrested for 1st degree murder. Or is it legal to kill children in Florida ? If he'd had killed someones dog , he would be in jail.. If it had been my son , Only god knows the outcome..

    March 22, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Sam

      It's a sad day for the ENTIRE NATION. However, FLORIDIANS, TAKE NOTE; there are legions of people already canceling plans to visit and vacation there; including me.

      Perhaps when you start to see the loss of billions of tourist dollars, you will change your racist and, at best, unjust ways.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  8. WASP

    this is.........what can i say. beyond belief. a young man lost his life and most people are arguing over the pigment of his skin and if this is relavent to who shot him. it doesn't matter who shot him, it matters if the guy that did shoot trayvon. i could care less if trayvon was of a different pigment a grown adult gunned down a minor in front of his home and all i keep seeing is whether or not race had anything to do with it. i'm 5'8" 140lbs i doubt a minor would be enough of a threat to me for me to have to shoot him unless that minor had a firearm. the guy admits to shooting trayvon, the only arguement should be whether or not it was self defense.......i say it wasn't self defense. it was murder of oppritunity.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Peggie

      WASP – race did clearly play a roll – if you listen to the 911 call again, you'll hear the shooter describe this young boy in racial slurs. And WASP – THIS is the ultimate fear we as mothers of young black and bi-racial men, as wives of black and bi-racial men live with every day. We've all had "the talk" with our sons, our husbands; how to respond if stopped by the police for ANY reason, if confronted, if followed, if threatened, if bullied, even while something as innocent as shopping or entering a mini-mart. If you've not lived in these shoes – do your homework before making such a stupid comment. The part I agree with you on – it was a murder of a kid, an innocent, good, decent kid. And those of us who are white should be standing up against this senseless killing as loudly as the boys parents, friends and civil rights leaders.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • WASP

      @peggie: can you see my complection through your monitor? how about what complection my wife or child is? no guessed not. i'm light complected native american, my son is light complected of dominican ancestory and his mother is dark complected dominican. i was up set that everyone is focused on the fact of their pigments and not the fact that one had a firearm and was about 200lbs, the other was a adolecent male with no weapon and from the picture couldn't be more then 130-150lbs. that is my point a full grown male shouldn't have the need to shot a minor even if attacked, brute adult strength would surfice. so if you don't mind, don't judge when you can't see.....plus the complection thing goes both ways. i lived in a predominately dominican neighborhood in the bronx and had narco cops run up on me because they thought i was either there selling drugs or buying them, then ofcourse i got it from the people in the neighborhood because they all judged me because i'm light complected to be a cop.

      March 23, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  9. Joe Blow

    I'd have thought that the probably illegal slaying of one kid by some redneck Florida loser calls for an investigation, a prosecution if that's what the facts (and local, and state, and federal level prosecutors) dictate, and the due process of law. Evidently, the functioning of the law isn't enough, I need to burn something or riot. Maybe steal a TV from Best Buy. How about if I beat some white people up? Maybe I'll start by hitting myself in the face for a while tonight – I'm white, so that should count. Right? Then I can key the neighbor's car and check online to see if there's an anti-Zimmerman lynch mob I could sign up for. Is that outrage enough, Pinsky?

    Jerk.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  10. Reality

    Where is the rage over 2000 years of Christian racist ) mumbo jumbo (from hatred of the followers of Judaism to those of opposite skin colors) that put in this scenario to begin with??

    March 22, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Reality

      Where is the rage over 2000 years of Christian racist mumbo jumbo (from hatred of the followers of Judaism to those of opposite skin colors) that put us in this scenario to begin with??

      March 22, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  11. White OKie

    What about the Black guy that shot the white dad in Florida on the baskektabll court? Where is the "Black outrage" for this? Seems a bit one sided.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Rob

      The question is one-sided. And you're right. Just because a person is black doesn't mean the are not racist. But that doesn't change the fact that a boy/young man was murdered for no discernible reason. We should be outraged, and many people are.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • history repeats

      There should be outrage for both. I had not heard of that story so thank you for giving me insight to that. We need to understand that a human life was lost in both cases. One life is not better or less than the other and we need to come together and fight injustice on any life that is lost senselessly. It is unfortunate that it always comes down to skin color verses a crime against humanity which further divides us all.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  12. Sly

    Most white religious figures in Florida are racist. Face it, most whites in the south are very racist.

    They'll get their buns in a bunch defending a murderer in Afghanistan, but are silent when minorities get slaughtered.

    Don't worry, Zimmerman's best bet is life in prison, otherwise some decent human will do what is right and execute the murderer.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • robert

      Well Sly, lets just go execute all the murderers. That solve this problem and bring that boy back to life. You are the TRUE racist, I can't say he was hunted down or what because I wasn't there. Florida, upper 70s temp. hoodie on, walking in a gated community, follow or no follow, this was NOT racism based on this evidence. But I am like Sly, lets go execute all convicted murderers and that will help on tax money.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Rob

      I see you're angry and frustrated. Understandable. But let the hatred stop here. Don't let your anger and frustration ruin your own valuable life. Everyone is not racist, but if you look for it, you will find it. Seek out those that are not bigotted (we come in all shades) and build relationships. Look in the mirror and try to be honest with yourself. No confessions to anyone, it's just between you and the mirror. Don't let hatred ruin your life.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  13. Rob

    Hey, I'm white, and I'm outraged. And outraged that you expect me to behave in any particular way because of my skin color. It needs to be INVESTIGATED as a hate crime, but only the courts and the jury can determine if it IS a hate crime. Yes, I'm outraged. I'm outraged that people are walking around with guns killing our kids -any of them. THAT's outrageous!

    Hate-crime designations determine the severity of the sentence, not ones innocence or guilt.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
  14. Heather

    Blacks commit violent crimes against white people everyday and there are no marches. Blacks, Illegal aleins are killing this country. No one cares about White people being murdered!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Sly

      Heather, your motheris calling – sounds like time for milk and cookies.

      Nice WHITE milk for a white girl.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Rob

      Wow sly, you're kinda racist yourself. Unfortunate to see in this day and age.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • history repeats

      Heather I do care that White people are being murdered as well. Killing is wrong period and it hurts me as an African-American male that we are often ones who choose negative paths. I apologize if you have been personally affected and hope that can open the door for discussion and positive change. We need to hold higher standards and start providing solutions and stop pointing fingers at each other because that only ignites more division and hatred at the end of the day.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Nobody you know

      Heather, how Stupid are you? "No one cares about White people being murdered!" That has to be the stupidest thing I have read in a long time.

      You are 10 times more likely to get the the Death penalty in the US if the VICTIM is WHITE. Which just goes to show that society puts the value of a white persons life over a minority.

      Ever heard "Missing white woman syndrome"? Anytime a white woman disappears (especially young and attractive) it is huge national news. Natalee Holloway for instance. You almost never hear of these cases for minorities.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  15. Chris B.

    Hispanic shoots black teen. Why does there need to be white outrage, especially from churches?

    March 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Rob

      Because a man kills a boy in public on his way from the store. Many, many, people of all races and skin color care about the safety of our kids. All of our kids.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  16. yneemee

    White anger is in the same place black anger is when blacks kill each other, when blacks kill whites, when blacks kill hispnaics or whn blacks kill asians – what a stupid question. Maybe some of us are waiting for the FACTS before we get "angry"

    March 22, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Sly

      Good point - wait for all the facts.

      We're also still waiting for the facts about 9/11 ... who really did attack us?

      That's why I have no outrage over 9/11...

      March 22, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • jack phoenix

      Too many people spouting off. Let the police do their job. If there is a question, let the Justice Dept. do their job. Don't get evyone jacked up till ALL the facts are on the table and have been investigated. Sounds like a WITCH hunt to me. By all means, keep Al Sharpton's nose out of it. Rabble rouser.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  17. Loud in Denver

    THERE IS NO REASON or EXCUSE for what happened. Let's tie him up and put a bag of skittles in his mouth and and let the firing squad begin.
    Here is the white outrage !!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHY is this murderer not in jail or apprehended? Are you kidding me. A boy [and no it doesn't matter if he were orange] was shot by this want to be cop for no reason whatsoever? There is NO excuse for shooting and killing this innocent young adult.
    Too many people are cops then they can't get anything much for their salaries nor recognition from the public in order to get to a certain level of law enforcement and this all boils up inside of them. COPS and want to be COPS have a hard time with their minds.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  18. onestarman

    JESUS Taught, "I am the WAY the TRUTH and the LIFE" – I am a Church-Going Christian and TOO MANY in the CHURCH follow the WAY of DEATH. Americans WORSHIP the FLAG and the MILITARY just like ROME. POWER and OPPRESSION is the way of SATAN and DEATH. We need to REPENT – To TURN AWAY from Destroying the Earth to Enrich the Lords of Death that seek to ENSLAVE and DESTROY our Life and our soul.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • AncientAliens

      ohmigod... you need to go join a suicide cult... do you have any idea how insane you sound!?

      March 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • onestarman

      Tell me about 'Insane' oh AncientAlien?

      March 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  19. rkidd

    Why not wait until all the facts are presented, before condeming the watchman?

    It is a tragedy that this young man lost his life andif not justified, then Mr. Zimmermen should be prosecuted.

    Let's not find this man guilty by public opinion.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Lisa C

      @rkidd....the boy was walking home from the store....this is "manslaughter" at the least. How would you feel if it was your son? We teach our kids dont talk to strangers. If this was your child and he was approached in the dark by someone he did not know and asked where are you going (we don't know how it was said) what would you have him do? This is real life....I teach my son not to run cause a running black man is assumed gulity. This child was walking slowly...he was assumed guilty...what more do you want beside his life.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • onestarman

      I REALLY isn't the MAN we are Condemning but a VALUE SYSTEM of a POLICE FORCE that says its 'Peachy' for Semi-Automatic carrying MURDERERS to Hunt Down Children.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  20. PBornes2012

    White, middle-class, agnostic professional here. OUTRAGED!!! I don't care what happened in the neighborhood prior to this, this child was pursued and gunned down, not until he was incapacitated ... UNTIL HE WAS DEAD. Where was the neighborhood watch captain when the robberies were taking place?

    March 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Al

      He was too busy following kids.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
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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.