March 25, 2012


            As we wrestle with the murder of young Trayvon Martin as a country as a whole and as the African American community, in particular, it is important to put this tragic event in historic context.  While we recognize the greatness of this country and do not take our freedoms lightly and for granted, we also acknowledge the reality that racism has been and continues to be a cancerous contradiction to the high moral and humanitarian principles that serve as the ideological and philosophical underpinnings of our nation.  Racism is so endemic to our culture that we shoot ourselves in the foot and take giant step backwards, every time we make concrete steps to becoming “one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.”


            This regression has occurred a number of times in our history.  I reference only three.  First after the Civil War, racism violently, lawlessly, barbarically and abruptly ended the strides towards freedom and equality that had been made during that high moment in American life known as Reconstruction.  During that period in the wake of the Civil War, African Americans exercised political power that reflected the best of the democratic process that our nation had witnessed up to that point in its checkered history of race relations.


            Secondly, after the many gains of the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950’s and 1960’s, the election of Richard Nixon sent a chilling signal that the clock was to be turned back on whatever strides had been achieved by African Americans.


            Thirdly, with the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, our country had the opportunity to destroy the historic hatchet of racial animosity.  However since his election, racial hostility has often been a smoldering powder keg.  He has been disrespected like no other President.  No other US President has been openly called a liar as the State of the Union Address was given from the floor of Congress. Any other US President would have been applauded if they had received the Nobel Peace Prize, but not Mr. Obama.  Long-term and tenured national black political personalities such as Representatives Maxine Waters and Charles Rangel have come under attack.  A conservative, hostile, race baiting, regressive Tea Party with a personal vendetta against anything that this nation’s first African American President proposes has emerged as a major political force in our national political arena.  A major television news story reported that before 2008, political subversive groups numbered a little over 800.  Since the election of Mr. Obama, those groups now number over 2000.


            When one considers the intense racial animosity that is right below the surface in many places in America, and is open and abrasive in others, then one can understand why some whites and others believe that they can murder in cold blood an African American teenager without any fear of prosecution.  One can understand how some police departments believe that they can sweep such hate crimes under the rug, without any intention of seeking law and order, less known justice.  To put the matter bluntly, the murder of young Trayvon Martin, is a disgrace not only to what this nation claims in its founding documents and criminal codes, it is also a sin and shame before God in heaven.


            We further assert that if a black man with a smoking gun had shot a young white teenager who was armed only with candy, that the response of just about any police department in this nation would be totally different. 


           Where then do we go from here and what is our response?


            First, we pray for the family of young Trayvon Martin and all of those who are immediately touched by his murder, as well as for the well being of all families with young people in the African American community in particular, and in America in general, that another generation will not repeat the errors of their elders.


              Secondly, we refuse to hate blindly and become infected with the same racial bile and cancer, which have already poisoned the lives of so many in the majority culture.  The present crisis is not a white versus black fight, but a fight for justice over injustice.


                Third, we teach our young people to be aware of the climate, culture and context in which they live, but not to live with paranoia or in fear.  “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and a sound mind.”  (II Timothy 1:7)


            Fourth, we will write our elected officials to press for the arrest of Mr. Zimmerman and a thorough investigation of this case.  Even if those officials are not our choice, they need to know and feel our outrage at this heinous miscarriage of justice.


            Fifth, we commit ourselves to the ongoing struggle for racial justice and equality of life in the African American community.  God still has a vision for our lives that is greater than any vision we can have for ourselves or that others can have for us.  We are determined that God’s vision will not be denied any longer because of the demon of racism, so help us God. 


                                                                                    William D. Watley, Senior Pastor

                                                                                    Saint Philip AME Church,

                                                                                    Atlanta, Georgia