Monday, July 22, 2013

No More Trayvons

I chose to sermonize about the Zimmerman verdict during this past Shabbat.  I included insights from several writers and editorials all expounding on thoughts relating to our judicial system, racism, and the like. 

The consensus according to these various commentators is that the prosecution had an incredibly difficult job, and that they did not do that job particularly well.  Another point was made was how the African-American community continues to feel a tremendous amount of racism which often surfaces through profiling.  And to top it off, Stand Your Ground laws can give a sense of entitlement to well-meaning individuals, which can lead them to horrific acts. 

With all that in mind, I then looked at it through a Jewish perspective to see if there was potential for guidance in how to respond to the tragic death of Trayvon Martin.

In last week’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, we find two very relevant passages that can shed some light on a possible Jewish perspective and response to the Zimmerman verdict.  The first deals with the cities of refuge.  These cities were to be set up so that a man who inadvertently committed manslaughter could flee without fear of recrimination from the deceased’s kin.  

The second relevant piece for us is the retelling of the 10 Commandments.  One of the most well-known, but mistranslated, “Thou shall not kill” which really means, “Thou shall not commit an act of first-degree murder.”

If we examine these two together the central tenant we can pull out from it is the idea is justice is an act under God’s guidance meted out by society.  Justice is not an act of vengeance meted out by an individual.  So perhaps, at least according to this reading of our tradition, creating a law such as "Stand Your Ground," though well meaning, can give an individual a sense of empowerment which can lead them to unintended acts of vengeance, which are then validated to be acts of justice. 

So even if we are not going to repeal the Stand Your Ground Laws, perhaps it is time to tighten them up, so they can at least more adequately represent cases of pure self-defense.  

By doing this, there is the possibility that we can prevent another needless death of another young person in our society.  While at the same time, it we desperately need to continue to tackle the issue of gun violence decimating young African-American men in our inner-cities.