Wise people will write wise words about the events of this week. I don't have wise words today. I have tears.
I'm not generally an emotional person. It takes a lot to make me cry. But last night, as I heard about the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, I wept.
I wept for a young man whose life was cut short for no good reason. I wept at laws that allow violence and do not protect unarmed people from being shot without reason. I wept for all the young black men who heard, in a verdict of "not guilty" the subtext: Your life is not valued, your life is not protected, there is no justice for you. I wept for mothers who raise sons knowing that those young men are more likely to be mistrusted, incarcerated, or even killed just because of the color of their skin. I wept for a nation that seems to make so little forward progress on issues of hate and injustice. I wept for systems so steeped in racism that I wonder if we'll ever fix them. I wept for the racism that I know lurks within even me. I wept because, yet again, one beloved child of God has killed another. I wept because I cannot understand it, and because I understand it all too well.
With the tears streaming down my face, I found myself repeating over and over again the words of Psalm 13: "How long, O Lord? [...]
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?" (Psalm 13:2, NRSV)
How long, O Lord?
How long must we go on in this broken world?
How long will we let inequality and prejudice reign?
How long until we see precious children of God instead of skin color?
How long until all people get equal treatment under the law, and in our own minds and hearts?
How long will this violence go on?
How long, O Lord, will my heart be broken?
I do not believe in retributive justice. I don't think that we get any benefit from simply punishing someone. Putting someone in jail in a vengeful attempt to make them suffer as "we" have suffered does not achieve anything. But I believe in restorative justice. I believe in the reconciliation that can come from people taking responsibility for their actions, acknowledging their guilt, and working to repair the relationships that were broken by their actions. In this verdict, no justice was served. George Zimmerman walks away, free, not taking responsibility for the fact that he killed another human being. He does not have to acknowledge his guilt, and there is no process of healing here for him or for the Martin family. Zimmerman gets his gun back, and the Martin family becomes one more angry, hurting family grieving the loss of a child to violence.
And so the cycle continues: Violence breeds further violence. Anger feeds more anger. Broken, hurting people walk wounded through the world, often unintentionally breaking and hurting more people. Without justice, without healing, there is no end to the cycle.
How long, O Lord?
How long, America?