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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. Kristina

    I'm outraged. I'm white. Racism hurts everyone. To the black community at large, please tell me things that I can personally do that would help reduce the mistrust and injustices. To the family of Trayvon Martin, may you find whatever comfort and peace you can after this horrible tragedy.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Fearfighter1

      Ever wonder why angel food cake is white and devils food cake is brown? It goes much deeper than cake but you cannot see it! So there is not much you can do without understanding the underlying principals of racism...

      March 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  2. Jay

    Where is the HISPANIC outrage? The shooter was hispanic, not white.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Hispanic is not a race it is an ethnicity.

      The shooter is white by race.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Fearfighter1

      @jay, you can be Hispanic and white as the driven snow.....

      March 22, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • question

      "@jay, you can be Hispanic and white as the driven snow....."

      Evidently so can blacks, considering Michael Jackson was whiter than most whites.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Fearfighter1

      @question...your remark tells me you know very little about blacks. I will tell you this micheal Jackson had a skin disease and chose to bleach his skin. There are blacks that pass as white as well...

      March 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  3. gg

    I am white, a Christian, and I am outraged. Seems to me that in the state of Florida, I can kill someone, and as long as no one saw it, I can claim self defense and get away with it. Doesn't matter what the race is.
    This just doesn't seem right.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Asha

      If Trayvon had just started running, he would either a) still be alive, or b) Zimmerman in jail for shooting someone in the back. What a shame. I am not outraged, but sad.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  4. charley witt

    We all stereotype in this world as I'm sure most of you would agree.Maybe if this young man wasn't walking around looking like a hoodlum in his hoodie he never would of been approached in the first place.Be a man dress like a man,don't wear your pants below your ass! Look Bill Cosby up on the Internet he talks about his own race and holds back nothing.No one will ever know what really transpired between those two because there was no witness.Don't attract negative anything and you will go a long way in this life.If you are a oddball people will treat you like one.You want respect EARN it it's something just not given to you.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Why shoud a child dress like a man.

      I am a 50 plus white engineer and I wear a hoody.

      Does that give the Mall cop a right to question and then shoot me?

      March 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • sam

      "Don't attract negative anything and you will go a long way in this life."

      That's the biggest batch of shit I've heard all week. Is that your wise, old-timey advice? Dumbass.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Damon

      What if i dont earn for respect? Some people are just fine without others opinions! Does that mean I deserve to be shot?

      March 22, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Dman

      Charley are you really this ignorant?

      March 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Reverend Al Sharpened

      Did one of your grandkids teach you how to work the talkie-box? Best get back off it before the nursing home staff find you.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  5. Sweetman

    There is nothing better than slipping the old truth banana up Rev. Albert's hyenas

    March 22, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  6. MsD

    Right here is white outrage. RIGHT HERE. From the beginning I have been really bothered that Mr. Zimmerman was not arrested or at least taken if for official questioning. Doesn't make sense at all.

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

      HERE TOO.....Self defense my a**. This young man's family got nothing but a slap in the face from the state of Florida. I hope they get justice !!!!!

      March 22, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  7. Greg

    I am a wight male. I am sickened by this story. My wife and I have discussed it every night. We have two teenage boys. Everyone I have spoken to, regardless of color, is heartbroke about this killing.

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

      I thought wights were more translucent in color...

      March 22, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Greg

      Sorry white not wight, typing too fast while upset.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  8. Tod

    White people treat black people differently because they are black, then cry about a "race card" when black people object to being treated differently because they are black. Dumb @$$E$. STOP RACIAL PROFILING and you won't have to hear it. Try treating the black victims with the same deference you treat white victims and you won't have to hear it. Try applying the law to white suspects as you do black suspects and you won't have to hear it.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • @youignantdotcom

      stop bringing up the white race on a story that has nothing to do with whites

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

      @You What race is he then? Black? Asian?

      March 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Tod

      @youignantdotcom – if you actually read THIS story, all of the incidents that were referenced do involve white. Also, the biggest point you miss is that the police that decided to take the word of the admitted killer without doing proper police work were also white. This outrage is more about the lack of justice for black victims than it is about Zimmerman.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • William Demuth

      You.

      This is ALL about white cops who let a man who killed a black child walk the streets free.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • @youignantdotcom

      Kiki – he was of hispanic descent, not-white.

      Tod – you keep talking about "white suspects" as if the killer was white. That is what I was referring to.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • @youignantdotcom

      "This is ALL about white cops who let a man who killed a black child walk the streets free."

      his post makes it sound different. He talks abotu "white victims" and "white suspects", NOT white police.

      I agree and from what I have read this precinct has a history of racism

      March 22, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Sweetman

      I'm black and you have to treat me in a special way. I'm a fancy and like to be fancified. The white ladies think I'm beautiful and you must not ever hook a show horse to a plow! I am gallant and walk like it. (looks like someone slipped a corncob up my derriere) I love to pose for men in my lavender panties, I'm so pretty especially when all greased up. My lips are the color of a red springblossums and they will drive you crazy. Who am I?

      March 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  9. Livninjusticedaily

    @rkidd...are you kidding me? It's perfectly alright to assume that Trayvon did something wrong, but it's not ok to look at THE FACTS concerning Zimmerman. You have him telling you himself "Yeah" I'm pursuing this teenager because he's WALKING DOWN THE STREET. We have the dispatcher telling him not to pursue this child. We have the tapes, we have the witnesses, we have Zimmerman chasing after this teenager, we hear the childs pleas for help, we hear the gunshot, we have the childs dead body. It's people who refuse to stand up for justice that makes this an option for people like Zimmerman. I don't think anybody really believes he's innocent,...not even you! Racist and racism has been killing Black people even before I was born. Justice will have to come from God, because it surely will not come from America (the world). For every rare case that gets prosecuted, ten go untouched. Trayvon is just one incident, there are hundreds, maybe thousands. Check each and every state if you don't believe me. Or continue to live your lives with your head in the sand. Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil is a nice way to live huh. Let's ALL try DO NO EVIL!

    March 22, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  10. floss from philly

    Whites usually stay out of the race wars, we are not comfortable discussing it, since we can't win, we today arn't responsible for slavery, every civilization were slaves to someone, Greeks to Romans, Bizantines to Greeks, Romans to English,
    Jews to Egyptians, etc. etc. There is still slavery going on in Africa and many other countries, it all comes down to rich/poor. power and non power.
    I am ashamed of what the English did to the slaves here in the US, As the mother of this poor child said it is not a white/black issue, it is about justice, the this guy Zimmerman was on a power trip, a frustrated wantabe cop, he should be arrested.Period. What is going on now is becoming a race issue. With a Black President can't we put this past us

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

      If people would quitting treating all Black people like suspects, if we had equal opportunities, if we didn't have groups like the kkk, if we didn't have people so willing to believe that if it's their an issue concerning someone White and someone Black, that the Black person is automatically wrong. If we had honesty about what really goes on and not pretend that this still about slavery and not about young Black men being killed for walking down the street. If White people were honest about all the things that go on RIGHT NOW...DAILY, and if it would all stop tomorrow, then maybe we could all get along.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  11. toby

    Ron got it right, Just like I said , no outrage in sarsota for the brits

    March 22, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  12. kls817

    where is the black outrage when a teen is killed by a gangster (which happens almost daily)?
    Could it be that these protesters don't acually care about their own youth, and they just want an excuse to whine and complain?

    March 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I guess you live in the country?

      If a black ganster as you call them even makes a peep out of line he is in leg irons in a cell.

      Yet this guy caps a kid and walks free

      March 22, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Livninjusticedaily

      Well if it's whining and complaining about a child being killed, then I think we'll continue to whine. Thank you for caring. And seeing as how you don't live in a Black community, I don't think you can speak about what we care about. I wonder how YOU would feel if the shoe is on the other foot. I bet Trayvon would still have been dead if he were the shooter. And not walking around shouting his next victim like Zimmerman. How about we have Zimmerman come and scout your neighborhood...I'm sure you would like that. He's FREE, call him up.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  13. jamal Zaytsev

    you people in the news media make me sick!!! I am a black man liveing in dover FL, i have a concealed weapons permit and carry my FN Herstal Five-seveN pistol which holds 30rd everywere i go. You are useing this to push gun control and not person responsible. everything i have seen it seem like the news media has bias to guns and people haveing personal protection. This is not about race it's about a man hunted down someone and kill them. he should be in jail and stand your ground should stay how it is. If you guys want to talk about a hate crime what about the two truckloads of drunk white supremacist teenagers in Mississippi that kill a black man simply for being black?

    were is the Reverend Al Sharpened and the black leaders on that??? also why did they go up to NYC the most place with the most racist cops to have a rally about something that happen in FL?

    March 22, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • Reverend Al Sharpened

      No money in it, son.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Livninjusticedaily

      Really! You make the best point for gun control as I've ever heard. Black guy huh. WOW!

      March 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  14. Media Lies

    Why is the media trying to cover up that the shooter was Hispanic, not white?

    March 22, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • kls817

      It matters not what his race is, as long as it isn't black.
      Black society tends to idolize killers as long as they're black (they kiss the behinds of gang bangers, and copy their tastes in clothes and music). But if the killer is a different race, then they pretend to be all offended. It's just racism from the black community.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:11 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). There is a common misconception in the US that Hispanic/Latino is a race

      March 22, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Livninjusticedaily

      Sounds like a lot of people are worried about the wrong things and making up their own lies...forget about the media. People on here seem to do a better job. And RACISM is defenitely alive an well on here. Listen to yourselves! I guess we forgot about Trayvon and have gotten into why Blacks are so whiny, etc. Really people! Shame on you! But you really make a good case of why RACISM is alive and well. It's because you're still here to stand up for it!
      Why am I not surprised.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  15. toby

    I think the whites are waiting for the blacks to speak out the two guys fron =m england shot by a black teen because he didn't like them walking in his hood. Hear any outrage from that ??????????????

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

      All who take this so lightly wouldn't find it so if it were your son. But no doubt if things keep going the way they are, everyone will have something to cry about. God's reward for hatred is HELL!

      March 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  16. Ben W

    What happened is terrible, and I believe it was a cold-blooded murder, but let's take some time to know all of the facts before we start calling people out for inaction. Do you remember the Duke lacrosse case? Zimmerman will have his day in court, no doubt. Until then, baiting and shaming others into holding rallies in an attempt to convict Zimmerman in the eyes of the public before his day in court are unfair and unjust.

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

      Do you comprehend that there will be no day in court if he isn't charged? The outrage is that the police took the killer's word for it without doing any cop work. It is ONLY because of the outrage that many of the facts have come out.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
    • Ranger14

      Ummm...until Zimmerman is arrested there won't be a day in court. Until people spoke up, the police would have walked away not caring that a black man was killed in a gated community because he was armed with Skittles. That's the problem. The police never acted. They were happy with Zimmerman's side of the story. Dead men tell no tales.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Livninjusticedaily

      Will he? Not so far. But he will have his day of judgement one day. So it is written so let it be done.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  17. RonSr.

    Now that this story has turned into a race discussion , Seems to me that if this young man had been white, latino or any other than black it wouldn't have made the front page. The blacks are the racist and they all know that they can use racism or slavery to get what they want..I know it , yall know it and they sure know it..by the way , I'm black..

    March 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Ranger14

      If he were white or latino he would not have been shot or even considered a threat. That is the issue.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Fearfighter1

      Your black huh? Then you should know ronsr that not all blacks think your way or ever place the race card.black people stereo typing black people now huh? That's pretty funny! And ignorant.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  18. Kathy

    I'm white and I am outraged! I don't go to church either.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  19. J.W

    Why is it that this stuff happens in Florida a lot of the times I wonder

    March 22, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Reverend Al Sharpened

      FL full to the brim with cray-cray.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Observer

      Friction between multiple ethnic groups combined with poor laws restricting the use of deadly force by ordinary citizens, apparently.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  20. KC

    Personally I do not understand WHY Zimmerman was not or has not been charged??? Is racism a factor? I don't know. This is one of those stories that I find disturbing. A 17 year old boy in the prime of his life is shot down. For what? Zimmerman believing this boy had a gun? Zimmerman believing this boy was dangerous? Zimmerman believing this boy was out to get him? Why would he think that? Unfortunately unless someone actually saw the killing/murder, Zimmerman, even if he does get arrested will not go to trial.

    This has nothing to do with white people not making a stand or more of an outrage. I heard about this story for the first time a couple of days ago. Yes, I found it disturbing, and still do.

    WE SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWING "NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH" PEOPLE TO BE CARRYING GUNS!!!

    I agree with Primewonk....The blame lies with the state of Florida.

    The loss of a young boy is heartbreaking, and my heart goes out to the family and friends.

    March 22, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Fearfighter1

      The blame does not lie with Florida ! It lies with scary A$$ fearful people in Florida and america who have only one perception of people of color and that is if you are black, brown, you can do no good. forget about the laws because united states have always punished blacks or brown people far more harshly than their white counter parts for the exact same kind of crime! I'm outraged in a way because we can't move forward in this country at a time when cooperation should be happening among all people. Are country has serious problems and we cannot afford to fail to solve them with people fully ignorant of one another. Zimmerman confronted this kid because his perceptions...if the kid was white he probably would of given him a pass without confrontation.

      March 22, 2012 at 3:24 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.