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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. scott

    Why would white people be involved in this when none of the parties is white?
    Where is the Hispanic outrage since the shooter was Hispanic?
    Where is the Asian outrage?
    Where is the Arab outrage?

    What an idiotic and racist column.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • dan

      Absolutely correct.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • kiki

      The word "Latino" is often used as a synonym for "Hispanic". The definitions of both terms are non-race specific, and include people who consider themselves to be of distinct races (Black, White, Amerindian, Asian, and mixed groups).However, there is a common misconception in the US that Hispanic/Latino is a race.

      He is white.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • scott

      Um, he went to school in my town and it has been on the news here about that aspect since yesterday. His roots are not European in origin, they are Central American. He is most assuredly not white.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  2. D

    Where is the black outrage every time they mow down a while person? It works both ways. I am not outraged because he was black; I am outraged that ANYONE would murder ANY other human being. People like you who WRITE these articles are just trying to stir the pot and create more racism and hate.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • scott

      Exactly. And it happens much more frequently than cases like this.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  3. sameolesong

    Stand your ground law – serious flaws – need to be addressed. racial issues aside.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  4. sam

    If we had to be "outraged" by everything people say we should be outraged by, we would have little time to do anything but picket. Calm down and wait to see what the "system" does before you come unglued.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • dan

      What? Think first? Examine the facts then react? Nice thought.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  5. Chuck Stewart

    Could it be "white church people" are better than the liberal racists that have pre-judged the shooter in this case? Could it be that the "white church people" are waiting to see what results the legal process produces before rushing to judgement. Could it be that the real villians here are the press and black activists trying to sensationalize this story before any real facts are known? There is racism here for sure. I am just not sure it has much to do with the shooting.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • doug estes

      No

      March 22, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Heime

      Very well said!

      March 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Br

      This is COMMENT IS RIGHT ON. I believe a full investigation is warranted, but to arrest Zimmerman (who is not white by the way) without cause is just as wrong. No one was there to witness what happened. There is only one side to tell the story wihich is unfortunate in this situation. But to arrest and imprision a person who might have been attacked is wrong too.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  6. Keith

    So a hispanic male shoots a young black male and still white people are to blame in some fashion? Please, just stop. This is down right embarrassing. I am white and I feel awful for this kids family, for both families when I think about it. Its a tragedy, but I am not going to go out looking for blood or convince a church it should do the same. However, I wouldn't blame a family member for seeking vengeance.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  7. catmomtx

    Here's the problem, Mr. Zimmerman was let go by the Sanford police. He was not arrested, investigated, drug tested or his record looked at. He is in hiding now with his family . He doesn't have to worry about being proven innocent or guilty because no charges have been filed on him. On the other hand, Trayvon Martin is DEAD. There is absolutely NO evidence that he was doing anything wrong other than going home. This is known from witness statements and 911 tapes. Trayvon martins body was tested for drugs and his record was run. He was judged, convicted and executed by one man who had absolutely no authority to do so. What chance was he given to prove his innocents?

    And in a lot of those cases, they were shot and beaten for absolutely no reason. It happens and it happens frequently and some people don't care to take notice. This time people are taking notice and they don't like what they see. White people like to hide behind the race card when confronmnted with race relations that are uncomfortable for them. Rather than dealing with the issues, they whine because they are faced with the reality of living while black in this country in 2012. Racisim is alive and well in this country and it has been brewing at a higher pace since 2008, and some people have just gotten out of control.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • momoya

      Do you realize that your argument boils down to this reasoning?: White people do this, white people do that, therefore white people are wrong..

      March 22, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Keith

      Racism is alive in the country and that door swings both ways buddy. You just don't hear about it when it is against whites or if any other race does it except for white people. Last summer there were "flash mobs" of young black males attacking white people based soley on the color of their skin. The Milwaukee fair, all over Chicago, Philly, etc. How many reports or headlines do you remember seeing....hmmmmm not that many. So yeah, keep living in your bubble. We don't hide behind the race card....we are the race card for everyone else.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • scott

      From what I have seen over the years, African Americans scrutinize race much more than white people do these days. White people are the reason there is an African American president. Quite a few African Americans thought that some white person was going to do something to him before he took office showing just how biased they really are against reality.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • J.W

      If you take race completely out of the equation, it is still a crime that has not be investigated by police. If it is this easy then anybody could kill anybody and call it self defense. But a month has gone by and nobody has investigated to try to find out if the self defense claims were true or not. I think if you put all the phone calls and circ umstancial evidence together he could at least be charged with manslaughter, if not second degree murder.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • dan

      He WAS NOT ATTACKED BY A white person. Hell, you have ebonics dont you. That last statement I made was as senseless as your Whited 'card' hiding. The attacker was a hispanic. You are Playing the racist white card witjhout a white person involved professer.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  8. Jerry, Florida

    There is always a "rush to judgment" in cases like this. The facts will come out eventually. Sharpton had his Tawana press coverage backfire on him. We should let the legal system take its course and wait to see the results of a full investigation rather than fanning the flames of bigotry.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  9. jimtanker

    What does it matter what color that the church is painted?

    March 22, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  10. kev

    this is so damn funny zimmerman is a jew name

    March 22, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • cpat

      Nice, real nice. You are an idiot

      March 22, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  11. Leo

    Though I agree this should be fully investigated, I can only see the double standards in cases like this, African American kill people every minute in this country just recently they killed a young couple in a Miami gas statyioned and the reason given for the teen was that they did not look scared enough while he pointed his gun.

    Where is the outrage over al the white, latino, and asian that blak criminals are killing every day, why is it only racial when a blak person is killed.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • sameolesong

      sterotyping is the reason.........

      March 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • The Real Deal

      I agree. You and SWEETMAN have it exactly right. People of every color get killed every day by those of the same or different color/race. Why is this any different? It's not. That is why there is no outcry from certian Churches, groups, etc. Drop the stupid race card and focus on why an unarmed KID was killed and how justice can prevail. People are "Racing" themselves stupid these days.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • stephen L

      because its only racism when it happens against there own you wont see them protesting to get rid of all the ignorant people that make up there culture they always try and feed us there ignorant BS or excuses

      March 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  12. Chris

    Mr. Pinsky have You ever written about why the black clergy has no outrage when a black male kills another black male? Why is a drive by shooting any different than this. You are just like the rest of the media and want to blow this story up as long as You can. I think there is enough outrage without white clergy getting involved.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Cindy

      You are already involved with your silence. Don't think you aren't involved already.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  13. Facts

    28 year old 260 lb armed male PURSUING a 140 lb 17 year old male. This frightens the 17 yr old 140 lb male & he attempts to lose this 28 yr old 260 lb armed man that is FOLLOWING him. The 28 yr old 260 lb armed man locates the 17 yr old 140 lb unarmed male & shoots him. Then said 28 yr old 260 lb armed male claims self-defense.

    Forget all the labels we place on ourselves ie. white, black, yellow, red, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist. I'm an educated human being whose common sense says this was cold blooded murder, not self-defense and that justice needs to be served.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Cindy

      Color does matter–colorblindness only benefits white folks and we need to be real specific about who is victimized here and who has power. Florida has not done very well in the way the state treats its African American citizens–in voting, Rosewood, who gets substandard schools, who is poor. This is NOT a level playing field here, surely as this kid was unarmed and Zimmerman was.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Facts?,

      I don't know what the facts are at this point. The police statement indicates that "Zimmerman’s statement was that he had lost sight of Trayvon and was returning to his truck to meet the police officer when he says he was attacked by Trayvon." (http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/21/sanford-florida-police-answer-questions-about-teens-shooting-death/) Which would be quite different than your portrayal.

      I'm not saying that this is accurate, but your description is not necessarily the "Facts."

      March 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Ricardo

      Facts are facts and you stated this perfectly. Take out the race equation and it was wrong on the face of the act. However, race cannot be divorced in this instance or should be in any other instance where violence is perpetrated.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • gigigogo

      amen

      March 22, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  14. Sara

    I think if the churches maintain that they are so well informed that they can tell you who to vote for, they should have something immediate to say about a child being shot to death.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  15. Sweetman

    Last weekend 50 people were shot and 10 died in Chicago. Where was Rev. Sharpton then? No money, no Jessie Jackson!

    We shrugged? If I shrugged everytime a b lack on b lack crime was committed I'd be hunched like the back from Notre Dame!

    March 22, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  16. Dee

    I still don't understand why the cops took it upon themselves to be the trial and jury. So much of the crime scene is lost now because they didn't do any investigation......someone should also look into this. What if the gunman was high on drugs or drunk, or other evidence that should have been collected is lost now. What cops are these?

    March 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • scott

      The cops have to have the evidence to charge. That is the way the law works. It is unfortunate sometimes, but have you thought and asked yourself why the D/A, state and Feds have not brought charges yet? Sometimes these things take time. There are many murder cases where charges are not brought for years because of lack of evidence. Everyone assuming the police are racist is in and of itself racist without facts to back it up.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  17. joe smith

    Mark I. Pinsky is a joke of a writer.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  18. TruthPrevails

    Anyone who has been listening to the news would know that they are not able to confirm whether or not this was racially motivated. It is a point they are working on.
    Zimmerman needs to be arrested and charged with murder. He made an as.sumption based on the kids clothing and in turn confronted the kid, held him down (eye witness testimony for this) and shot the kid in cold blood. The kid was carrying a bag of skittles, not a damn weapon. We know that Zimmerman while carrying out one of his consti.tutional rights (the right to bear arms) did not have permission to do so in regards to his duties as neighborhood watch. We know that during one of the calls to 9-1-1 he was advised not to follow Trayvon but yet he failed to listen to them. This is not a case of self defense on Zimmerman's behalf, it is murder and the family deserves justice and so does Trayvon.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      RACIALLY MOTIVATED ????IS A WHITE NEIGHBORHOOD-–4 HOMES WERE BROKEN IN 4 WEEKS PRIOR TO THE SHOOTING .. A BLACK KID DRESS IN BLACK , DUH..HE WAS IN THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME...ZIMMERMAN KNOWING THAT 4 HOMES WERE BROKEN IN BY 4 BLACKS GUYS, HE SEE A BLACK KID ? I WOULD BE CURIOUS TO AS TO WHAT THAT KID IS DOING IN A WHITE NEIGHBORHOOD... I'M A HISPANIC GUY, I'M SURE IT WASN'T RACIAL....BUT HERE WE GO WITH RACIAL PROFILING.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • J.W

      Why do we think of things in terms of black and white? Why can't it just be a neighborhood, instead of a black or white or asian neighborhood?

      March 22, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Mike D

      Hey JOSE COULD YOU DEFINE A WHITE NEIGHBOURHOOD FOR ME. I was under the impression that this is America and we can all walk where we want. Should we wonder when a Hispanic walk through a black NEIGHBOURHOOD? Actually I am black, I grew up among many Hispanics and count many as my friend. Thank goodness the vast majority were not like yourself. The problem is that some of the whiter ones try so hard to prove they are whiter than the whitest white. Sound like you and Zimmermann are of the latter group.

      March 22, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Keith

      LiarPrevails, keep your Canadian opinion in Canada. I whole-heartedly agree with Captain America on you butting in here. This didn't happen in Canada. It doesn't concern you. If we want your assinine opinion, we'll ask for it. Til then, no thanks.

      March 22, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  19. chuck t

    It's not 1951 you idiot. First get all the facts and then make a claim. We have a Latino man killing a black teenager. They are both minorities and both suffer from racism. You think the local churches need to hit the street and demand a hanging? join this century fellow. We no longer have hanging's on the town square and hopefully we don't make something out to be what it's not. No evidence has been made this guy was a racist in the past and no one says he is part of the KKK. Racism aside, I think this needs a closer look, but not clouded looking for racism as the reason. This guy got scared and for some reason shot this poor kid. The local clergy all need to be praying and not marching the streets.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  20. Primewonk

    What happened is a tragedy and a travestry. Nobody needs to by lynchednuntil the investigations are finished.

    But much of the blame lies with the state of Florida for enacting an idiotic law like this.

    I also wonder about the hypocricy being practiced here. Mr. Pinsky apparently feels some umbrage over a sufficient lack of rage from white christians over this. Yet black folcks are one of the biggest groups who seek to legalize discrimination against gay folks. They are upset about being discriminated against, yet see no problem in discriminating against others.

    March 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Mike D

      Hey, I am black and I was just as outraged when the gay kid got killed for being gay in Puerto Rico. Don't make these assumptions

      March 22, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • JOSE0311USMC

      WHITES ARE THE VICTIMS OF BLACKS BREAKING IN THEIR HOUSES, WHY SHOULD WHITES BE MAD ? WHITES ARE SICK AND TIRED OF BLACKS BREAKING IN THEIR HOUSES...I'M HISPANIC, BUT I'M SPEAKING FOR WHITES.

      March 22, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Sweetman

      Black folks will continue to seek a cause when the perpetrator is of another race. But, it's alright when it's black on black! Last weekend in Chicago the score was 50 shot and 10 dead, all black. Where was that fat Sharpton then? You know! He was in Florida race baiting. The reason? It is usually cold in Chi Town in March, but he could wear his $130,000 for coat. Yes! I said $130,000 fur coat. (smile)

      March 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • yvonne

      Hi

      Blacks are not a monolithic group of people. Many religous groups discriminate against LGBT people and rsome eligious people happen to be black.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Primewonk

      @ Mike – thank you for your outrage. But (there's always a but) I made no assumption. You only need to look at any valid poll on gay rights that is stratified by race and age and gender and political affiliation and religion. Fundamentalist blacks are amongst the highest rate groups seeking to legalize discrimination against gay folks.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • DL

      I absolutely agree with this. Regarding the death of Trayvon, I grieve with his parents and his community. I pray for them. Yet I know that the issue here is not simply one of race. The individual who did the killing is a Latino from my understanding. While the article give the times in history that these type of events and occurrences have happened, the application is different but the principle is the same. All races of people have it seems built in prejudices, we have all been taught to discount the value of those who are different from us. This is the crime. This is the tragedy of America, this is the shame of America. This is also the shame of the Church. Dr. King, who is so often quoted, has a sermon in which he quoted the words of John Dunne, that says that "No person is an island, that we are all a part of the main." He also say that we must make of this nation, this world a "brotherhood, and not simply a neighborhood." When churches of African American, refuse to fight the battle for those who are marginalized by the society, then they can understand why others refuse to fight their battles. The proverb says a lot of spiders can tie up an elephant. People of African Descent in American are considered by some to be simply a small spider. We must join forces, for good and right causes, with other spiders, this includes those who are gay. Their fight is our fight. We can claim all we want that the "Bible," says, and until we seriously consider the reality of how the Bible came to be the Bible we can feel justified in saying this. Yet there is enough scholarship on both sides of this equation to get one to truly ask the question, "Did the Spirit say what we say, Jesus said," If you are convinced that Spirit said this, then why is there not simply one church, and not so many different denominations. Each one is saying that something has been left out, overlooked, changed. Each one is claiming that what it has is the vital element that was left out by others. This is indeed what JESUS the Christ did, "ye have heard it said, but I say unto you..." In this day and time, Jesus the Christ would say, "ye have heard it said, that gay people should be excluded... but I say unto you... include them." Instead what we have is churches who say, "ye have heard it said, stand up for this one, one of your own, but not for this one who is not one of your own." We must stand up and stand together when ever there is an injustice done. That is to say our voices should be raised just as high and our out raise just as loud when ever injustice rears its head in any place and against anyone, white or black, straight or gay, and all others who are given life, that they might also have liberty and truly pursue happiness. So I agree with Primewonk. We Demand Justice For ALL and each time we should Demand Justice for all. Remember that if you will not speak for others, one day they shall come for you, and there will be no one to speak for you. Why? Because you have allowed all who would speak to be taken away. We demand justice for Trayvon. We know that the family is wrapped in the arms of Spirit. We demand justice and a place for all. For All have a place. Blessings and Namaste!!!

      March 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Primewonk

      @ DL – I'm not black, Christian, or gay. But what you wrote is beautiful, powerful, and haunting.

      In response to your Dunne quote, I offer this on, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

      March 22, 2012 at 3:42 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.