Honoring Trayvon: Let's confront attitudes about race, violence

At the federal courthouse in Tampa, Ione Townsend, 63, protested Sunday against the  verdict in the Zimmerman trial.
At the federal courthouse in Tampa, Ione Townsend, 63, protested Sunday against the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. AP

The acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer ripped open deep wounds involving race and violence — wounds that usually are allowed to fester below the surface of U.S. society.

If any good can come from the needless death of an innocent teenager, it will be by bringing these wounds to light and committing more Americans to stemming the violence and averting more injustices and suffering.

In Lexington, a town-hall style meeting tonight at the Carnegie Center will seek to create a "candid dialogue" and a safe place for people to talk about the case and its implications. The gathering, moderated by KET's Renee Shaw, begins at 7:30.

Meanwhile, across the country, millions of people are understandably angered and saddened by the verdict and Martin's death.

They're also wondering about another Florida case in which a black woman who fired warning shots at her abusive husband, but killed or injured no one, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

We won't attempt to dissect the jury's reasoning in the Martin case, the effectiveness of the prosecution and police investigation or the quirks in Florida law. The six jurors heard the evidence and decided based on the instructions the judge gave them.

As President Barack Obama said, "We are a nation of laws and a jury has spoken." The president wisely urged respect for the "call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son."

What we must not forget is this: Martin could have walked home from the store and enjoyed his Skittles in peace if George Zimmerman had not assumed, based on the teen's appearance, that he was an intruder who was up to no good, and if Zimmerman had not been armed with a concealed weapon.

The best way to honor Trayvon Martin is to examine our own prejudices, conscious and unconscious, and commit to non-violent solutions and sincere efforts at empathy.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch leader with no policing authority, should be a cautionary tale about NRA-fueled paranoia. Sadly, his acquittal might embolden others to hide a gun in their waistbands and look for an opportunity to practice self-defense.