Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Law or Justice

The Trayvon Martin “murder” case has once again raised the age old question of what is “legal” and what is “just?” For some of us who have lived through a lifetime of “unjust” laws we probably have already found an answer to this question for this young man’s killing has helped resurrect the laws of segregation with which many of us grew up in the Jim Crow south. The law was the law back then, but that did not make it just. Thankfully through the actions of President Eisenhower and those who followed him in office of President, the laws were finally changed and segregation was legally abolished.

Many us have continued to question, however, if we have made that much progress on eradicating racism from our society. Racism cannot be changed through laws, though race crimes can be prosecuted. Racism is a crime of the heart. Whether the Trayvon Martin case will even get prosecuted is still in question since it is hard to prosecute a case where an existing law in Florida (and a number of others states) provides broad ambiguity with the “stand your ground” laws that allow for a person who feels they have been threatened to use the power of weapons, such as handguns, to defend themselves.

On the surface such laws seem justifiable, but then there is the principle of letting the police exercise the authority of using violent force if it is necessary. Bad judgment was certainly a factor in this killing. The defendant might have called in this young man’s presence and allowed the police to do their job. Even carrying a weapon as someone serving as a neighborhood watch volunteer begs the question of where our society has moved- and continues to move- around the issue of gun permit rights. The Tennessee legislation will debate, and likely pass, a law that permits one to carry handguns just about anywhere in a vehicle, including where one works and worships. It is easy to joke that we need the Earp brothers making those attending church surrender their firearms before passing into a sanctuary.

This might be funny, and sound ludicrous, but I have personally observed a handgun in a brief case many years ago at a Presbyterian Church Session meeting when carry permits were far more stringent. The person carrying the pistol was an attorney who was in clear violation of state and federal laws! When I expressed my concern he looked at me as though I were crazy and said, “Anyone who would stay in Atlanta after dark should have their head examined!” That statement applied to me because I was always involved in a lot of night meetings at the church, including youth lock-ins. I know there are people who still feel this way. I had to question, even back then, however, who needed his head examined. I understand what drives such fear. Our culture is filled with it. But, did I feel fearful? I did not. Was there a basis for this man’s fear in meeting on church grounds after dark? For him there most certainly was. For me? I never felt threatened, or fearful. I had little reason to.

The killing of Trayvon Martin is rooted in such fear. It has to do with our fear and free-floating anxiety as a culture of those who are deeply different than us in their skin colors, religious beliefs, social and political opinions. Some of these fears are contained within deeply held values that super-cede either law or justice issues. They are inculcated fears that often come out of the violence of abuse and the insidious nature of the abused who become abusers. This abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual, spiritual, or some combination of all of these. It is far more rampant than most people know, or want to admit. For example, statistically 1 in every 4 young women has been sexually violated in some fashion before they turn 18, whereas, 1 in 6 boys has been sexually abused. Look around you in any setting and one of people nearby you in the same pew, or at the next school desk, or office cubicle has mathematically suffered from abuse according to these figures.

This presents itself as a national tragedy. Is George Zimmerman such a victim of abuse? We probably will never know because the shame of such victims is so deeply buried, or so intense as to rarely be revealed by those who have been so wounded. That’s not because there are no resources for healing. Those are very available and well known resources within the therapeutic community The problem is in not seeking help, and in not knowing it is available.

The website you have entered is about such healing resources. You will find many answers to your questions both personal, or professionally as a therapist within the pages of www.asafe2heal.org . We welcome your additions and comments at our blog site and through your e-mails. We are here to serve the needs of the wounded, but most especially those who suffer from sexual abuse, and/or sexual addiction. We are here as a safe place to talk and to find support and wholeness as a human being.

I believe, though I cannot prove it, that speaking of one’s woundedness is more difficult for men than for women. The culture of “manliness” and being macho doesn’t let a male to talk as feely about his abuse with other men. Such men may become closer to talking about their abuse with a female counselor, female friends, a companion, or spouse, though I cannot prove this suspicion either. What I know is that women will talk with other women more readily about their abuses. I’ve witnessed this repeatedly through a lifetime of pastoral ministry. My evidence is broad, deep, and anecdotal because women have sent women to me seeking help as a trained pastoral counselor. I have rarely had an abused male seek help either through his own volition, or through referral. I’ve heard plenty of stories of men dying from AIDS, however, who were referred to me by an AIDS hospice. These stories I know intimately from the tears these mostly gay men shed with me in my counseling office, or that I shed at their funerals. They are proof enough for me that when push comes to shove there are few true atheists left with impending death.

So, the Trayvon Martin case takes on many aspects which call us to probe our own consciences, and our consciousness of the society in which we live. One has to feel some grief for his family unless fear and anger are so consuming as to simply make this a sad indictment on our culture as it’s “all his fault.” And, someone has to feel some sympathy for George Zimmerman even if his was a tragic mistake. What we can realistically say is that a young man is dead from an act of violence. That’s a tragic event that in ways indicts all of us for our silence about cultural violence.

Yes, I’ve read and heard the redundancy of comments of why aren’t we talking about young men who get killed in gang shootings, or people who are innocent victims of drive-by shootings every day. Some of us do have a say about this, but probably not enough of us to make a difference. Sometimes we are afraid to talk about it at because of our cultural denial that we live in a dangerous society that we have allowed to become more and more violent year after year. Some fear that without carrying a handgun that we will be in grave danger. In some parts of most any city, or town, that fear is probably legitimate. But it is we who allow such conditions to become that dangerous from remaining silent. It is we who don’t demand change from our publically elected officials that they make our culture safer. Some of these officials- if not a majority of them- will argue that this is exactly what they are doing by advancing laws that allow far greater freedom to allow anyone who is not a criminal to carry firearms. That has automatically become the by-line of those who say they are protecting my Second Amendment rights.

I am doubtful of this claim as I read that amendment, though this is not my point. My point is about the violence that is being done every hour of every day in our society. The old cliché that “people kill people, not guns,” rings hollow against the abuses within our society. It has always been a poor argument at best. The connecting dots of the abused who have become abusers, of the sexually abused who have become addicted to sex is well documented by vast amounts of research; brain science and therapeutic tracking. This is not a new phenomenon. Are we not to rightfully expect a violent culture when we perpetuate it in such radical fashion? When we continue to allow violence as a weapon of abuse?

Trayvon Martin is the unfortunate victim of a gun tragedy. George Zimmnerman is a victim, also. He probably would not have responded with violence if he had not felt fearful. I live in a neighborhood where we have a neighborhood watch. It is not the first such neighborhood that I have lived in. I feel safe, though we have had a share of robberies, some domestic violence, and even a violent crime or two. It is not wrong to be watchful. Nor is it wrong to use the prompt response time of the police and to take down factual information of a crime being committed. The response time in Florida was rapid. Trayvon Martin would have surely been found inside a gated community. Whether his death was an act of vigilantism, or self-defense will be for courts to decide. More is the pity that it all came to this with a needless death. Two lives are ruined one way or the other. One is lost forever.

Will we remain silently watching and grow more fearful and eventually feel we need a gun? Will we sit back and let more laws be passed that cause more violence in a violent culture? It is in our ancestry as a nation to do so. It seems part of our gene pool as Americans. But must it remain this way? Will we sit still and allow sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual violence to be acted upon others? Abuse of all of these forms is all around us.

The jury is out on these questions. It is out on us.

Phil Leftwich

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