Friday, April 13, 2012

Bending Toward Justice

When the special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin homicide case, Angela B. Corey, brought second degree murder charges against George Zimmerman I felt as I did when Barack Obama won the presidency.  I felt proud to be an American.  Ms. Corey’s press conference announcing her decision and George Zimmerman’s turning himself in to face these charges was almost miraculous.  Ms. Corey is an honorable special prosecutor who by the strength of her words, it appears, is dedicated to the justice all those who wept for Trayvon desired.  Even Mr. Zimmerman's new defense attorney extended his condolences to the Martin family.  It was civilized man at his best.   

In Trayvon’s memory we turn another corner yet again in the nation's Herculean struggle against racism and its fight for human justice. It is a never ending fight as one generation passes the baton of legal jurisprudence to another safeguarding Lady Liberty's flame.

Well over two hundred years ago a group of 18th century men steeped in Europe’s Enlightenment crafted a document -- the Constitution of the United States -- that has withstood the test of time. It is resilient, it is flexible and it is brilliant.  It is clear, though, the charging of Mr. Zimmerman for the killing of an unarmed black teen would not have taken place had there not been a volcanic push from the bottom up. 

We are in a new age.  No longer will a historically besieged people not stand THEIR ground and allow others to run roughshod over their fundamental Constitutional rights.  When I think of the years -- hundreds of them -- it took for the black man in this nation to disembark the slave ship and cross over the bridge to freedom, I wax incredulous.  The bridge needs constant repair.   The bridge over this river of tears was forged by many.  It was forged by Frederick Douglas, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, William Lloyd Garrison and a Civil War that killed more human beings, often brother against brother, than any war in the history of this country’s plethora of human conflict.

It was forged by Emmett Till, a young black man slaughtered brutally by vicious racists for the crime of merely flirting with a white woman.  It was forged by Malcom X who said “I am non violent BUT I am not nonviolent with people who are violent to me.”  He instilled a sense of pride and power in a people who had little of either.  And, of course, by Dr. Martin Luther King who said that this nation delivered a promissory note returned and marked insufficient funds; that this nation will live out the promise of its creed and honor that note where its people of color were concerned. 

The Watts section of Los Angeles burned, Bedford Stuyvesant section in New York burned, Detroit burned, Chicago burned and the post Civil War struggle for the rights of African Americans continued.  Human beings with other human beings said NO.  The black sanitation workers of Tennessee said NO, Rosa Parks said NO to the back of the bus.  They said NO to segregation at lunch counters, in schools, in bathrooms, in swimming pools, at water fountains and a thousand other different venues of every day life.  I AM A MAN their signs read because so many whites treated them as if they were something less. 

There is a long road to travel before the Zimmerman case has ended but whatever the outcome the history of Trayvon Martin’s death is inscribed indelibly onto the American historical heart. It hangs as a picture of the American historical landscape as does the hanged civil rights workers, Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner for as long as this country lives. 

The president has a rug in his oval office which reads: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." According to the September 4, 2010 Jamie Stiehm Washington Post article “... those words belong to a long-gone Bostonian champion of social progress. His roots in the republic ran so deep that his grandfather commanded the Minutemen at the Battle of Lexington. For the record, Theodore Parker antebellum American reformers, lyrically gifted abolitionist, Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist thinker who foresaw the end of slavery, though he did not live to see emancipation. He died at age 49 in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War.”

Indeed, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice in this nation once again.  It feels good to be an American today!

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