April 6, 2012

Be Our Guest / Sr. Mary Beth Klingel, S.P.

Religious community says tragic shooting must lead society to search for solutions

Sr. Mary Beth Klingel, S.P.Innumerable forces in our lives, and throughout our society, seem to have convinced us that immediacy is best. We have to do it now. We have to have it now. We must go there now. We need it now!

Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin of Sanford Fla., died recently in an unnecessary way when a man on neighborhood patrol made an instant decision to pull a trigger. But what happened before the tragic blast?

Trayvon, a young African-American, was walking in a gated community. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, and carrying a snack and beverage.

A Caucasian male, who lives in the community, was driving by. He was a member of the community’s neighborhood patrol. Did he make an instantaneous judgment that Trayvon was there to cause trouble, or because he was a teenager, or because he was black, or because he was wearing a “hoodie?”

Trayvon noticed the man. Did he make a snap decision that he was about to be questioned or harassed for no reason? Had he been in that position previously?

The man called 911 and the dispatcher asked him to avoid making contact with Trayvon. He made a quick decision to continue his pursuit. He confronted Trayvon. He did not wait a minute or two for police to arrive. The confrontation ended in death, and it ignited a firestorm of quick reaction.

Immediate justice has been demanded by nationally known speakers, rallies across our nation, on social media sites and by people in that Florida neighborhood. Justice for what?

The man did not heed the warning from the dispatcher. He chose to act on his own. He had no authority to do so. Serving as a member of a neighborhood patrol gives no one legal authority.

The shooter claims self-defense. Did Trayvon make a quick, immature decision that teenagers often make by moving aggressively toward the man? Or was Trayvon provoked into attacking the shooter because he felt threatened, afraid for his own safety? To whom does the rationale of self-defense apply? Both? Legal authorities will have to sort that out.

Now, a family mourns the loss of a young man who was about to enter the prime of his life. The shooter’s life, and the core of his family structure, have been devastated as well. Life will never be the same in that gated neighborhood or that Florida community.

At the center of this story seems to be the lesson that racism still exists in our society. Racism appears to have been present in the shooter’s action of making a quick judgment about the young man walking in the neighborhood. It is evident in this case through the divisive reactions that came ever so quickly.

In our haste, we make presumptions about one another, or about certain situations, that are often unfounded. As a society, we have become increasingly reliant on confrontation to solve our differences. Confrontations often end in violence, sometimes with devastating consequences, such as this event in Florida.

As a society, is this who we want to be? Deep down, do we really want to be unaccepting of our neighbor? Have we convinced ourselves that we have no tolerance for a different viewpoint, or economic level, or educational values, or age factors, or gender issues, or ethnic background? Do we not want to live in peace?

As a family grieves, another family braces for traumatic times and a community hopes for healing, let us call upon the power within us to coexist with people of all races, creeds and social levels. Let us not fall into the trap of quick, biased thoughts and decisions that are often without basis or merit. Let us avoid the biases in ourselves and within our society that often lead to devastating tragedy, and diminish us as individuals and as a society.

The solutions are not immediate, but they are within our reach.

(Providence Sister Mary Beth Klingel is general officer and liaison to the Anti-Racism Team for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.)

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