Trayvon Martin walked to the store and was gunned down by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman who ignored police directives not to follow Trayvon. Instead, he cornered Trayvon, shot him in the chest, and claimed it was self-defense under Florida's "stand your ground" law.
Trayvon's heart stopped, and a nation's heart broke. Here was a 17-year-old boy, talking to his girlfriend, with Skittles and an iced tea in his pocket, with his hoodie up to fend off the rain.
The calls for an arrest are vital. The shooting of Trayvon was on Feb. 26, and still there is no arrest in the case. If there is no arrest, there is no trial. George Zimmerman must be tried and found guilty or not guilty. With all its flaws, that is our justice system.
But there is another trial of great urgency. We need a trial of our broken nation, where diatribes against women, immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and sexual minorities are considered "entertainment." Words are not innocent speech; words have content and impact. Listeners of George Zimmerman's 911 call can hear a racial slur just moments before he shot Trayvon. That is not innocent speech.
As a pastor and the international head of Metropolitan Community Churches, founded to provide a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to worship, I am too familiar with hate violence. Hate violence is hard to prove, and people who appear to be good citizens can perpetrate these crimes while living otherwise upstanding lives.
The insidiousness of hate is that it does not necessarily come with robes and swastikas; it comes from people who think they are doing the right thing because most of what they have heard from the pulpit, their families, and "conservative" talk shows tells them that their place in this country is at risk because someone who is considered an "other" is getting what belongs to them -- or is threatening their "way of life."
Our country has a core value of free speech, but free speech depends on good people standing up and challenging systems and ideas that are broken. Our heart goes out to Trayvon and his family, but where is the media coverage when black youth are 15 percent of the child population but 45 percent of the child and teen gun deaths?
The outcry over Trayvon's death is absolutely right and just, but we need the same sense of outrage over every one of these child deaths. We need the same sense of outrage when we learn that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population but almost a quarter of the whole world's prisoners. We need outrage that 70 percent of murders of LGBT people in 2010 were people of color, and 44 percent of them were transgender women.
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."
We are waiting for the trial of a broken nation, but who will testify? Who will stand up and challenge the country to live up to its ideal of justice and liberty for all?