A City upon a Hill

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I suppose everyone at this point within listening or viewing distance of mass media has heard about the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin fourteen months ago. So much has been written about this case and this trial. I find it difficult to add much to the conversation, except to note that it has been marked by polarization and widely differing opinions and interpretations. Again. We seem to go through this sort of thing every so often, and this makes me sad.

So, what to write? First, I think it notable that most people (myself included) gain their information and draw their conclusions based on mass media, which invariably has some sort of bias. Some outlets claim no bias, but in this world, that’s not possible. I used to tell my students that the important thing was not finding an unbiased source, but being aware of the bias and adjusting one’s conclusions accordingly.

So, we are left with the questions: was George Zimmerman a wannabe cop, an overzealous Neighbor Watch member, a stubborn, irrational young man who lost it on a child? Our younger daughter went to school with him and his brother Robert (she knew Robert better than George), and said they were nice guys from a solid, religious family. Was he a conscientious citizen trying to keep his neighborhood safe who was threatened by a menacing young fellow up to no good? What happened to George, and why?

And, was Trayvon Martin a gangsta thug in a hoodie up to no good? Or was he a child innocently walking home, in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person. We will never know the truth of what happened that night. George Zimmerman knows, but he is unlikely to tell all he knows. And Trayvon Martin cannot speak from beyond the grave. More’s the pity.

It seems to me that both young men in this case are victims. Trayvon is more obviously a victim of violence and misplaced anger, but they both are in another sense. Mass media has a tremendous impact on how we see ourselves, and it looks as if both young men bought into some media stereotypes and roles for their age and gender. Perhaps Trayvon was acting like the kids depicted on television, in movies and in video games and music: bad dudes who prize violence and breaking the law. Maybe George had seen one too many Chuck Norris program and saw himself as a citizen upholding the law when the authorities wouldn’t. These are only my theories: the reality is one young man is dead and another’s life has been irreparably chhnged for the worst. And I do mean “worst.” Our daughter days the whole ZImmerman family has received death threats and are afraid to return to their homes.

So, what are we to do?

I think we need to be aware of the influence on mass media on our lives. We need to teach our children how to think critically about what they are exposed to, to make good decisions, and to reject those who counsel paths that lead to destruction. We need to treat each other with respect and love, regardless of our perceived differences. It is possible to have a just and righteous society: it takes a lot of work, and we’re obviously not there yet.

The Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony spoke of establishing “a City upon a hill” in the New World, one in which people would live in harmony and peace, with “liberty and justice for all.” In the nearly 400 years since that colony was established, we have made progress toward that ideal. The case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin shows that we still have a way to go. May we continue together on that journey.

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