Mercer panel discusses Trayvon Martin case

jmink@macon.comSeptember 26, 2013 

“Trayvon Martin’s blood cries out from the ground.”

David Gushee made that statement Thursday as he described the controversial case, and the response it has drawn from the media and the nation. Gushee, a Mercer University professor of Christian ethics, was one of three panelists who took part in a discussion about the Martin case, which drew controversy and widespread attention from across the nation. The panelists addressed some issues surrounding the case, including empathy, legal effectiveness and the history of racial discrimination.

Martin, a black 17-year-old from Florida, was killed by George Zimmerman in February 2012. This past summer, Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter charges, sparking outrage and debates about racial discrimination and injustice.

Mercer held the discussion at its Medical School Auditorium before about 150 attendees as it commemorates 50 years since the integration of the school. As the university reflects this year on the history of race relations at Mercer, Teri McMurtry-Chubb, a Mercer law professor, highlighted the history of violence and injustice against black people in America. As a panelist, McMurtry-Chubb mentioned other cases in which black people were killed and no one was held accountable, she said.

“America has a strong legal history of the seemingly unchecked killing of African-Americans, particularly males,” she said. Those cases send a message that “black lives are not worth as much as white lives” and that black people are dangerous, she said.

Tim Floyd, also a Mercer law professor, gave the facts of the case and discussed the legalities of what happened in the courtroom. But a trial does not tell the complete story of what happened, and there is much the nation still does not know, he said. He also mentioned a couple of jurors who went public after the case, one of whom spoke to the media about the difficulties of not knowing what truly happened.

Gushee discussed how the media handled that case and others, offering them as “chew toys,” he said. “Then everyone moves on to the next chew toy.”

It seems like the more heart-wrenching and important the event, the less adequate the media coverage is, he said. The case becomes an anecdote to use in heated debates instead of a respectful, humane conversation, he said.

Gushee used Biblical verses to showcase lessons from the Martin killing. For example, he mentioned a verse that describes all humans as related. According to that verse, not only did Zimmerman kill his brother, but the nation should be sympathizing with his family as though they lost a brother, he said.

“We are all brothers and sisters,” he said.

There are many, different conversations happening about the Martin killing, a case which proves that Americans have different realities, McMurtry-Chubb said.

For example, while the case caused a frenzied discussion about gun control in some communities, “there was a very different conversation going on in the community of color which was, ‘Is somebody going to follow me into my neighborhood and shoot me,’ ’’ she said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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