Do We Profile?


Type “racial profiling meaning” in the Google Search Bar and you get this result:

“Noun –  The practice of substituting skin color for evidence as grounds for suspicion.”

I am not a lawyer.  I cannot and will not speak to Florida’s “stand your ground law,” nor to the complexities of the legal  definitions of “second-degree murder” and “manslaughter,” nor to the meaning of “self-defense” as found in the 27 page set of instructions given to the 6-member jury.

I will not pass judgment on the jury or on the lawyers on either side.

But on the night of February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman passed judgment on 17 year-old Trayvon Martin. The grounds for judgment?  Skin color.

My younger son’s favorite snack growing up was Skittles.  My thoughts and emotions immediately went to him when I read that Trayvon was walking home from a convenience store where he had bought Arizona Iced-Tea and Skittles.  If that had been Devin out that night in that neighborhood, with Skittles in his pocket, he would have come back to his mom and dad unharmed.  Now, be honest.  We know this is true.  But when black 17year- old Trayvon Martin went out that night just to get a snack, he ended up dead.

Some people believe this case has nothing to do with race, that Trayvon’s Blackness was inconsequential to his death.  I wonder if that perception is held only by those who’ve not been on the receiving end of racism or profiling.  If you don’t buy the “color-connection” ask yourself: Why did Trayvon seem suspicious?  Why was his hoodie threatening to Zimmerman?  No one, to my knowledge, has been suspicious of Mark Zuckerberg in his hoodie.

Zimmerman’s own words are incriminating.  Remember his words to the police dispatcher when he called in to report seeing Trayvon walking in his neighborhood: “F-king punks.  These a**holes.  They always get away.”  Why would he think Trayvon was a “punk”?  Had Trayvon “gotten away” from something in that neighborhood?  When the defense put up as a witness a white woman who had been robbed by black men as central to why Zimmerman picked out Trayvon to follow and stalk – it says it all.  Was she robbed by Trayvon? No.  So why should he be suspect? Sounds like profiling, doesn’t it?

In a speech by Attorney General Eric Holder, he said a couple of things that we would do well to consider:

First, “Today I’d like to join President Obama in urging all Americans to recognize that, as he said, we are a nation of laws, and the jury has spoken.”

Second, “The news of Trayvon Martin’s death last year, and the discussions that have taken place since then, reminded me of my father’s words so many years ago and they brought me back to a number of experiences I had as a young man, when I was pulled over twice and my car was searched on the New Jersey Turnpike when I’m sure I wasn’t speeding, or when I was stopped by a police officer while simply running to catch a movie, at night in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C.   I was, at the time of that last incident, a federal prosecutor.  So Trayvon’s death last spring caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15-year-old son, like my dad did with me.  This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down.  But as a father who loves his son and who is more knowing in the ways of the world, I had to protect my boy.  I am his father, and it is my responsibility, not to burden him with the baggage of eras long gone, but to make him aware of the world that he must still confront.”

My dad never had such a conversation with me.  I never had such a conversation with my sons.  There was no need. Black parents have to teach their children not to wear hoodies.  But white people don’t need to have any such conversation.

Do we get it?  Do we know what it’s like to be a black youth?  To be under suspicion just because of how we look?  I don’t.  I don’t know what it’s like to walk down the aisle at the grocery store and see the lady coming toward me reach down and grab her purse that is sitting in her grocery cart – or meet a lady in the mall and see her move her purse to the shoulder farthest away from me.  Friends of mine in Springfield, MO do know what that’s like.  They aren’t white.

No, I can’t speak to the legal proceedings, reasonings and deliberations in the George Zimmerman trial. I don’t know if it was George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin who threw the first punch, or who was on top of whom. But without the profiling, there would have been no punch – no shot – no death.

“Lord, in what ways am I guilty of profiling?”

There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among others. Proverbs 6:16-19

“Lord, I don’t want to be a Samuel.”

When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Surely, this is the LORD’s anointed!” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.  The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:6-7

I want to be, I need to be more like Jesus.  How about you?

“Soul Freedom”


Happy 4th of July.  Happy Birthday USA.  We live in the land of the free because this was the home of some very brave people.  One of these brave individuals is Roger Williams.  I grew up in a Baptist home, went to and pastored Baptist churches, received my undergrad and graduate education at Baptist schools. So Roger Williams was as much a hero to me as Stan Musial is to Cardinal Nation.  Yep.  Roger Williams established and pastored the first Baptist church in the New World, located in Providence, Rhode Island.   Oh, he founded the town of Providence as well, giving it that name because he figured that God’s providence had led him there – God’s providence and Roger’s rebel spirit.

Williams rebelled against the religious philosophy and practice of the day, which was basically, “my way or the highway,” or “my way or the stocks or sword”.    The Puritans came to these shores to find religious freedom, but when they got here they turned it around and denied it for everyone else.  “You’re free to think, believe, and act like us.”  New England residents who didn’t attend worship services were put in the stocks.  People of other faiths were often forced to pay higher taxes or kicked out of the colony.  This “my way” approach was personified in John Winthrop, the Governor of Massachusetts, the “City on a hill” guy.

Enter Roger Williams. He came to Massachusetts Bay from England preaching and teaching “soul freedom,” the idea that faith cannot be dictated by any civil or church authority.  In fact, he said that forcing someone toward a belief or to think a certain way was “soul rape.”  “Forced worship,” he said, “stinks in the nostrils of God!”

Roger Williams was a Bible scholar, holding a high view of Scripture. Yet, he recognized the difficulty in reconciling contradictory scriptural passages as well as different Bible translations.  Given these complexities, Williams judged it impossible for any human to interpret all Scripture without error.  So, he considered it “monstrous” for one person to impose any religious belief on another.

That kind of thinking might get you fired – or in William’s case, banished.  Roger Williams had once been considered as pastor of the Puritan church in Boston – a great job!  Yet his ideas were too radical. The authorities found him guilty of spreading “newe and dangerous opinions” and banished him from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The colony’s leaders agreed that his position was nothing less than “Satan’s Policy.” Williams found a safe place with the Narragansett Indians whose chiefs sold land to him and his followers.  They established a new settlement and named it Providence.  Its reason for existence, its claim to fame was complete and absolute religious liberty.  Rhode Island became a safe haven for all sorts of religious outcasts and misfits  -people who would not let the establishment make spiritual decisions for them.

Having been both a witness to and victim of religious persecution, Roger Williams believed that most of the wars in the world were the result of religious conflict.  He advocated total religious toleration even as other Puritan pastors preached, “Tis Satan’s policy, to plead for an indefinite and boundless toleration.”  Not for Williams. He argued that “ all religious sects had the right to claim equal protection from the laws, and that the civil magistrates had no right to restrain the consciences of men or to interfere with their modes of worship and religious belief.”

Now we understand why Rhode Island never had a a witch trial.  Or blasphemy trials.  Nor hanged, whipped or jailed people because of religion.  All the other colonies executed witches. Most had blasphemy trials.  In nearly all of colonial America people of faith were persecuted.  Massachusetts hanged Quakers.  Virginia threw Baptists into jail.  These things did not happen in Rhode Island because Roger Williams founded Providence to be a “shelter for those distressed of conscience.”

Other governments called Rhode Island the “latrine of America”.  Roger Williams called it a “shelter.”

Fast forward 150 years.  Our founding fathers were putting together a government for the USA.  “Which way do we go?”  The way of John Winthrop or the way of Roger Williams. The way of religious intolerance or the way of  liberty? The way of government enforcing religious principles upon the people or the way of a wall of separation. The American experiment could have gone in the direction of John Winthrop and, yet, it went in the direction of Roger Williams.

Freedom.  We love and appreciate it.  Many have died for it.  It was Roger Williams who planted the seeds of religious liberty that we enjoy today.
Want a great book on Roger Williams?  Check out Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul by the premier historian John M. Barry.