As national protests grow surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida, the United Church of Christ is adding a call for justice and prayer.
The UCC's Collegium of Officers released a statement offering condolences to the Martin family, asking for swift legal action in the wake of the February 26 shooting, and urging stronger gun laws.
The statement reads:
“On behalf of the United Church of Christ, we send our deepest condolences to the family of Trayvon Martin who was cut down in the prime of his young life by a bullet fueled by fear. We cannot imagine the grief and loss that his loved ones are now experiencing, only to be worsened by a system that cannot prevent a tragedy like this from happening in the first place. We join in prayer with members of our congregations and thousands around the world, of all races and religious practices, that God’s love will embrace all who walked with Trayvon on his short journey of life on earth.
"We have a responsibility to model the way of justice and peace for our children and cannot wait for another tragedy like this to tear the fabric of our families and communities apart. We urge and will join with members of our congregations and communities to stop the proliferation of gun laws that allow for the destruction of their hopes and dreams. We call for a swift and just processing of this case in the court of law, rather than in the media or on the streets of our nation.
"We plead for God’s forgiveness and understanding in this situation that is difficult to comprehend. We cannot support or defend carrying lethal weapons in our neighborhoods and communities under any circumstances, but more particularly in the name of preserving safety and security. We must stop and take stock of our cultural values that favor a ‘get them before they get me’ attitude. We must interrupt the hostile and paranoid attacks on young people. We must dig deep into our hearts to better understand how racism is scarring our souls.
"We pray that God’s mercy will be made known in the days and weeks ahead.”
On February 26, George Zimmerman saw 17-year-old Trayvon Martin walking back from a convenience store to his father's girlfriend's house outside a gated community in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, called police to report a "suspicious guy" and followed Martin despite the dispatcher's advice not to. Neighbors said they heard a scuffle, cries for help and then a gunshot.
The Florida Council of Churches also released a statement late yesterday, offering support for the Martin family and calling for just prosecution in the case:
"We call upon law enforcement in Sanford to pursue justice in this matter with deliberate effectiveness. The investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death should proceed swiftly without racial bias so that the matter is not continually tried in the media. 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."
UCC Florida Conference Minister the Rev. Kent Siladi said, "The churches and clergy are concerned that this could happen in any of our communities. We are gathering for prayers, to lift up our concern about the gun laws in our state."
Two rallies are planned tonight (Thursday) in the Florida community of Sanford, where the shooting took place, and another tomorrow in Washington D.C. Atlanta pastor, the Rev. Derrick Rice of Sankofa United Church of Christ, is part of a Georgia group that will be participating in the Florida rally. "A chord has been struck across demographic lines...a blind person can see that this is wrong," Rice said. "It's time to step up. For people of color, the flash point can be, that could easily be my son."
Rice and a dozen members of his church joined 120 others boarding two buses Thursday morning to join the protest. "We are forced to grapple with an ugly reality that a group of people [in our country] undervalue the lives of black citizens, as evidenced in a litany of people that this exact same type of incident has happened to," said RIce.
In Florida, some state politicians and civil rights leaders are calling for the firing of the Sanford police chief after reports about police handling of the investigation.