- by Dr. Rev. Pamela Lightsey -
I am not stunned by the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. Angered but not stunned. In addition, I neither respect this verdict nor have “faith” in the American justice system. Like the Martin family, I pray about justice to the only One in whom I have absolute faith.
Faith is acceptance and confidence in something, someone, and especially in God. Theologically, faith is assurance in the One who has given evidence of justice and loving care for all creation.
The American justice system has historically not shown evidence of its full commitment to justice for its Black citizens. The justice to be found in “the system” is realized only at our insistence. This is true because justice, in this realm of life, is rarely fair and for Blacks it frequently is blind not for the sake of objectivity but because those charged with implementing its guidelines are too often blinded by either racism or their lack of cultural sensitivity. How can it be otherwise when only 1 in 4 of local police officers on the front line of ensuring the public peace are persons of color?
We have not made gains in our civil rights because of a “justice system” designed with our good in mind but rather because we protested and insisted, to the shedding of blood, on its redesign so that we might live a good and peaceable life. The justice system presents for so many Black Americans a system fraught with not merely imperfection – this is the case for all Americans – but imperfection so often laced with racism. A Black male walking down the street, riding on a train, driving his car is too often perceived a threat, perceived involved in criminal activity solely because of the color of his skin. Black women who are stopped by police officers on their way home from the beach clad in their swimwear given full body cavity searches by female officers while white male officers stand looking on.
Moreover, predictions of race riots that were in the news even before the verdict was given are no more than extensions of racial profiling. Images were conjured of black men hurling bricks and other objects through stores; busloads of Black Panthers descending on Sanford, Florida; innocent white people being caught in harms way. The ongoing stereotype of the Black brute has resulted in too many innocent Black men in jail and too many unarmed Black men killed. And lest someone point to Black on Black crime, here too the “justice system” fails the Black community by its lack of vigilance to address crime in Black neighborhoods with the same zealousness that it does to arrest Black men who are considered a threat to white America. (Keep in mind, George Zimmerman put no effort into volunteering to rid crime in the community beyond his gated neighborhood.)
So, to put this question to a grieving family, “Have you lost faith in the justice system?” demonstrates an ignorance of the tragic history of slavery, civil rights, legal racial profiling and now Stand Your Ground laws. One simply cannot lose what has never been. The more sensitive question should be: What can we all do to ensure a legal system that ensures justice for all citizens and residents in our country?
 See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2299451/Kelly-Helleson-Female-trooper-performed-roadside-body-cavity-searches-women-wearing-glove-indicted-counts-sexual-assault-official-oppression.html
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Dr. Rev. Pamela Lightsey is an out queer scholar and social justice activist at Boston University School of Theology where she serves as Associate Dean of Community Life and Lifelong Learning and Clinical Assistant Professor of Theology and Practice. In the broader academy, Pamela serves as co-chair for the Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Group of the American Academy of Religion. Her passion as a social justice activist and her commitment to being a servant of God’s beloved kingdom, has often found her strangely at odds with both the church and our American government. In preparation for General Conference 2012, she co-wrote, with Gil Caldwell, “An Endorsement Against Bigotry and The Injustice of ¶ 304.3.” This document signed by Black UMC scholars strongly critiqued the church’s current policies that discriminate against LGBTQ persons. Believing that military persons ought not be made to fight in unjust wars, she has recently accepted a position on the Executive Committee for the Soul Repair Project, a study the role of moral injury in veterans. Rev. Lightsey is an ordained elder in the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church. As pastor, rather than perpetuate an elitist ethos among Black bourgeoisie in the church, she turned her attention instead to doing ministry with impoverished children and youth on the south side of Chicago. In recognition for her work she was given the United Methodist Denman Award for Evangelism.