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Rev. John H. Vaughn Headshot

A Lifetime of Isolated Incidents

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I am a black man, a member of the clergy, and the father of two black boys. My wife and I and our sons (ages 10 and 6) live in New York City, where, over the last few years, we have seen our share of killings of black men and boys -- from Abner Louima to Amadou Diallo to Sean Bell to Ramarley Graham. I fear -- and I know -- that blacks and whites experience those killings very differently.

In his book, "The Rage of a Privileged Class: Why Are Middle-Class Blacks Angry? Why Should America Care?" author Ellis Cose refers to the many experiences of racism that mainstream white communities observe and dismiss as "isolated incidents."

He observes that as black Americans, we spend our lives seeing and experiencing "isolated incident" after "isolated incident" after "isolated incident."

A colleague forwarded me a blog last weekend that asked, "Where's white church outrage over Trayvon Martin?"

My answer to my colleague, quite simply, is that many of my friends in Christ and my religious brothers and sisters see this as yet another "isolated incident."

There comes a point for many black Americans when the "isolated incidents" are no longer those, but symptoms of deeper expressions and manifestations of racism. The killing of Trayvon Martin comes as yet another "isolated incident."

Yet this one seems even more unbelievable, where Trayvon is actually followed, and then killed. It is easy to state that Mr. Zimmerman was just crazy, that the police officer who spun this crime as "self-defense" was just a racist, or that Trayvon just should not have been wearing a hoodie. For me, it is impossible to see this crime disconnected from the not-so-long-ago history of lynchings, the extralegal (and sanctioned) killings of black people that continued into the 1950s.

People of Faith, this is one of our many "wake-up call" opportunities to understand: these are not isolated incidents. This is what racism looks like today. The choice before us is: Are Americans ready to do the hard work of holding Mr. Zimmerman and others accountable? Are we prepared to proactively reduce such tragic events?

Or will we be content to dismiss this tragedy as yet another "isolated incident"?

"They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying 'peace, peace' when there is no peace." --Jeremiah 6:14