After fifteen hours of deliberations, jurors cleared neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman of all charges in the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
As the killing of the unarmed 17-year old February 26, 2012 fueled a furious debate around the country about equal justice and racial profiling, advocates of United Church of Christ stood in solidarity with the teenager's family.
Today, as part of a statement denouncing the verdict of the Florida court, the United Church of Christ's national officers reached out in prayer to the family and friends of Trayvon Martin.
"Our foremost thoughts and prayers today are with members of Trayvon Martin's family, who have lost a beloved child to racially motivated gun violence and who now must bear the additional weight that the perpetrator of this crime will not be held accountable. May they be blessed with courage, endurance, and the assurance of God’s continuing love and care."
The UCC statement, released Sunday July 14, just hours after the verdict was announced, also expressed outrage at the glaring injustice of the court decision.
"How many more innocent lives must be sacrificed, how many more Trayvon Martins or Amadou Diallos or Emmett Tills, before it becomes clear that our nation’s judicial system is neither just nor inclusive when the lives of people of color are at stake?"
Zimmerman could have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter, but the jury of six women came down on the side of the defense team, who argued that the case was classic self defense.
In response, UCC leaders are calling for action, urging everyone to "challenge our lawmakers and court systems that continue to make racially biased decisions."
Here is the complete statement from the UCC Collegium:
"How long, O Lord, how long?"
As people of faith and as the United Church of Christ, the ground upon which we stand is the presence of the kin-dom of heaven in our midst. We hope and work for the Beloved Community where all of God’s children thrive and live abundant lives, free from violence and hatred. Our foremost thoughts and prayers today are with members of Trayvon Martin's family, who have lost a beloved child to racially motivated gun violence and who now must bear the additional weight that the perpetrator of this crime will not be held accountable. May they be blessed with courage, endurance, and the assurance of God’s continuing love and care.
The acquittal of George Zimmerman exposes once again the deep wounds of racial polarities in our society and the imbedded flaws in our criminal justice system. As national leaders of the United Church of Christ, a denomination that has long stood for justice and racial equality, we are compelled by our faith in a Stillspeaking God to ask how many more innocent lives must be sacrificed, how many more Trayvon Martins or Amadou Diallos or Emmett Tills, before it becomes clear that our nation’s judicial system is neither just nor inclusive when the lives of people of color are at stake. How long must our children and communities fall victim to the violence of a gun culture and gun laws that that sanction vigilantism? This is not only a disturbing historical wrong, but a stark living contemporary reality, rooted in racial bias and racial profiling.
It is terribly frightening that an unarmed teenager walking home from a routine errand, in his own neighborhood, could be confronted and ultimately killed. That his attacker would initially face no charges whatsoever and now has been subsequently acquitted of any responsibility, sends shock waves yet again through this nation’s African-American community and all those who are committed to overcoming racism that justice is not served equally when black persons are the victims of perpetration and violent crime.
We must respond as a church to the profound realities before us if we are to be faithful to our calling as disciples of Christ. We have joined our voice with those calling for stricter gun laws. We recently expressed our outrage with the Supreme Court Decision to gut the Voting Rights Act. We continue to speak out against the prison industrial complex and the harsh truth that African American males are vastly overrepresented in prison populations. We work diligently to end poverty and the racial profiling of immigrants and other people of color.
Now we must act -- as local congregations, as individuals, and as a denomination -- to engage fervently in our own sacred conversations on race and racism to expand solidarity with our sisters and brothers who, out of sheer necessity, must teach their children how to walk, how to talk, and how to behave so that they don’t become targets of violence and racial hatred. Now is the time to act. We must challenge our lawmakers and court systems that continue to make racially-biased decisions.
We offer our prayers for all the persons affected and impacted by this closely watched court case, especially the residents of Sanford, Fla., including George Zimmerman and his family, whose lives have been forever altered. We pray, too, that our church will continue to be a bold, public voice for the peaceful realm of God, where none are injured or harmed, but where love and compassion prevail.
The Collegium of Officers of the United Church of Christ:
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President
The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
Executive Minister, Justice and Witness Ministries
The Rev. James Moos
Executive Minister, Wider Church Ministries
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries