The judicial system has ruled. George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin, based – to a large extent – on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” legislation. Zimmerman felt that his life was endangered. A jury determined there was not enough evidence to the contrary.
At the same time, another Florida citizen, Marissa Alexander, received 20 years in prison for shooting a gun indoors, in the direction of her estranged husband, against whom a restraining order for domestic violence had been issued. She, too, invoked the “Stand Your Ground” law, fearful that her husband was about to harm her physically, as he had done in the past. However, in this case, the judge determined the claim was not justified. She was given a mandatory 20-year prison term.
I am not here to judge either George Zimmerman or Marissa Alexander.
Rather, it is to speak about race in America. A friend once asked me: “When you wake up in the morning, what do you see in the mirror?” I answered, “Me.” He said, “You are so fortunate! When I look in the mirror, I see a black man, because that is how the world sees me.” After a difficult conversation about race, religion, and identity, I came to understand. Many African-Americans see themselves just as Jews were forced to saw themselves during many times of anti-Semitic oppression, as the “other.”
The George Zimmerman/Marissa Alexander trials teach us that race continues to weigh heavily as a yoke on this country. We continue to suffer the ills of slavery and servitude that marked more than a century of our country’s life. And remember, it has only been 50 years since laws were enacted to make it illegal to discriminate against blacks and others.
Two weeks ago, we observed the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, a place where thousands died over (among other issues) the question of slavery. Racial prejudice has been a painful thorn in the crown of liberty for this country. It is time we acknowledge it. It is time we confront it. It is time we eliminate it.
I have no solutions to offer. I just know that a white man is free and a black woman is serving 20 years in prison. Their actions were different. He killed a black teen. She shot a gun in the air to scare a black man. There is something wrong. Whether we are liberal or conservative, in favor or against “Stand Your Ground,” Jews know what it means to become the “other,” to be viewed/reacted to/treated as different than those in power. Those who survived the Nazi reign of terror understand. When do we?