By Zane Marshall
Hearts hung heavy across the nation as George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and was acquitted. Vigils were held all around the world, including in Rockford, where 70 people of all races and creeds converged to pay tribute to Trayvon Martin and all of those who have lost their lives to the scourge of violence. The names of several local victims were listed, while prayers reverberated in the minds of all.
The vigil/march was led by a very ecumenical clergy from denominations as diverse as Methodists, Episcopalians, Unitarian-Universalists and many others. However, it wasn’t dogma or creed that bound our group together, it was something greater: hope.
In the midst of one of the worst crime waves in Rockford history, horrific poverty filling our cities, and now, Zimmerman walking free, for one night we were united in our hopes to build a better society based not on competition or bloodshed, but love and cooperation. It reminded me of a quote by Bertrand Russell that said, “There is only one thing that will redeem mankind and that is cooperation.”
It was this spirit of love and cooperation that bound us all together that day. I recall earlier today becoming infuriated at the verdict and personally wishing death upon Zimmerman, my sorrow for the death of a boy on the cusp of his manhood transformed into raw hatred and vituperation for Zimmerman. I hoped, long and hard, for a lynch mob to kill the man, my rage filling my posts on various message boards (which does a ton of good).
It was at this rally, however, that my attitude changed. I understood that a group, a society bound by love, is far more powerful than one bound by hate. I have been to numerous rallies where negative energy seemed to prevail — anti-police brutality rallies, where the prevailing theme and message was “f–- the police”; and Occupy rallies gone bad. When negative energy prevails at rallies, when our own desire for violence and our anger gain control of us, we become as bad as violent police officers. I then understood that this rally wasn’t about wanting Zimmerman in prison, it was about building a greater empathy and understanding in our communities, and ending the cycle of violence, so as to build a healthier world where blacks don’t need to be afraid to go out in a hoodie.
One of my favorite lines from the great, great movie Rent is “There’s only us, there’s only here, give in to love or live in fear.” To me, this encapsulates all of the power that love, kindness and mutual respect have compared to raw rage.
The Trayvon Martin case forces us to realize that racism is still a very real thing in our society, something we will have to work against, not just as voters and activists, but something we will have to erase from our hearts. I have heard some defenders of Zimmerman state that because the man was a Hispanic, his motivation could not have been racial. This ignores the very serious racial turmoil between blacks and Hispanics, a mutually destructive inter-racial turmoil that this capitalist system has always promoted as a means of keeping the lower and working classes divided.
At their core, men like Zimmerman are just like any other citizen in that they are truly sick of all the violence. However, they fail to understand the complex relationship that poverty, race and crime play together, so these individuals merely pick up a gun and go out on the street as vigilantes, armed only with their weapons and their mental racial profiling (certainly not their wits).
Zimmerman cannot hide from God, and no matter what happened, he knows what he did. I pray that one day he will somehow make amends for what he has done and realize his wrongdoings. But hoping for people who typically behave terribly to change their behavior is one that has disappointed me. It’s easy to become hateful of the Florida court and Zimmerman for all that’s happened, but don’t. Instead, channel that into love for your neighbors, your friends and, yes, even strangers. Smile and wave at the next person you see, come out to more protests, volunteer somewhere, do something for your community! In the words of Tupac Shakur, “Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live, and let’s change the way we treat each other — it’s on us to do what we gotta do to survive.”
Zane Marshall is a Rockford resident.
From the July 17-23, 2013, issue