STANDING WITH Sandford, Florida…The NEW American Assignment
BY NICOLE ANDERSON COBB, PHD
During these moments when tragedy coerces us into “national conversations” about race, violence and/or crime, the longer I listen to the media coverage, the more aggravated I am by the absence of perspectives I long to hear.
Today, my frustration peaked listening to Jonathan Capehart on MSNBC providing commentary on the Trayvon Martin murder at the end of the Dylan Ratigan show yesterday. Capehart’s show-ending commentary on March 23, 2012 leveled heavy criticism against Sandford, Florida’s city manager, Norton Bonaparte, for not being emotional enough in addressing the Martin murder during his public statements.
However, in the same commentary, Capehart reveled in the emotion and sensitivity of President Obama’s remarks offered 27 days into the unfolding drama.
I was profoundly disappointed that Capehart could not even consider the range of emotions possible, available and PERMISSABLE for both City Manager Bonaparte and President Obama.
Furthermore, I wondered why Capehart was unable to cut Bonaparte some slack. While it took the President some time to find his footing AND voice on this issue, City Manager Bonaparte is negotiating a profoundly difficult climate and an ongoing torrent of considerations ON THE GROUND EVERY DAY and must do so with steadiness and professionalism in a situation changing by the hour.
More importantly, though, sorting through Capehart’s comments was useful for helping me figured out and write about why I often loathe these moments of grief and speculation orchestrated by our national media.
Trayvon Martin’s murder has indeed shed light on an abhorrent, atrocious, horrifying act: the murder of a child…and a tragedy compounded by the curious police work that followed the incident…and a Florida law that might have inadvertently fueled this act of cruelty.
However, following this murder, what has then ensued is requisite outrage, social media gone wild, cable post-mortems and protests organized to display outrage, defiance, calls to action, arrests, firings, etc.,.
And yet, for me what has been missing from this spectacle? KINDNESS AND COMPASSION FOR THE PEOPLE OF SANDFORD, FLORIDA of all hues and persuasions.
We have watched preachers, activists, the media, mourners and curiosity-seekers INVADE Sandford, Florida like locusts to protest, speak out or get the story on the ground.
We’ve even watched fashion play a role as supporters of the Martin family don hoodies to show solidarity with the victim…as well as express their own vulnerability to the same acts of aggression.
Yet, my question is this: while we grieve and vent, WHO WILL CARE FOR HE PEOPLE OF SANDFORD? While we wave fists of fury and contempt at rallies for city fathers and mothers, WHO PRAYED WITH the City Manager? WHO PRAYED WITH the Mayor? WHO PRAYED WITH the police officers---both outgoing Chief Lee and his replacement? WHO PRAYED WITH local elected officials, community leaders and clergy?
As we rallied in Central Florida, WHO WENT to Miami to see how Trayvon’s classmates, their parents, teachers and coaches are doing?
As we busy ourselves stocking up on hoodies, Skittles and tea, DID ANYONE EVEN ATTEMPT TO GO by the Zimmerman home to pray WITH them? WHO PRAYED ON SITE at the gated community FOR NEIGHBORS AND RESIDENTS navigating this national scrutiny?
See, I understand---as an African American female, former Florida resident, mother of an African American daughter, aunt of an African American nephew, and wife of an African American man with four brothers--- how easy it is for our sympathies to rest with the Martin family in the midst of an indescribable loss.
But as a follower of Christ, I can’t escape the gnawing feeling in my gut: that the church, communities of faith and individuals of conscience MUST MODEL COMPASSION FOR THOSE WHO HAVE TO LIVE IN THE MIDST OF THE HORROR THAT HAPPENED ON THEIR WATCH as public officials, law enforcement officers, citizens and neighbors.
This brings me to a scripture that presses on me heavily most days: Luke 10: 29-37 from the New International Version (NIV) of the bible.
In a discussion with Jesus, an expert in the law asks a question trying to determine how to “love his neighbor as himself”:
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Now, I know in this instance, it is quite easy for one’s mind to peg Trayvon Martin as that ill-fated man going down from Jerusalem.
However, I would offer that the city of Sandford, Florida IS THAT AILING MAN. And I believe that the scripture is calling us to stop gawking at Sandford in judgment, stop pointing at Sandford bitterly, and stop sweeping into Sandford, taking what we need to feed our anger, grief, fear, or network news segment and leaving the Sandford community in tatters.
Despite the difficulty of doing so, WE MUST see Sandford, Florida, WE MUST have compassion for Sandford, Florida and WE MUST help Sandford, Florida bandage their old, deep, abiding wounds that created the climate where such a tragedy can happen.
Sandford, Florida is that injured, bloody soul now shamed, trampled, judged unfit before the nation. However, I challenge us to consider the aspects of Sandford, Florida that exist IN ALL OF OUR COMMUNITIES.
IN ALL OF OUR COMMUNITIES, innocent folks are GUNNED DOWN DAILY.
IN ALL OF OUR COMMUNITIES exist heroic neighbors and citizens working to live together in community…and we have folks who are disgruntled, seeking notoriety or a way to belong--- in a culture where easy access to gun’s falsely affirm one’s masculinity, status, power, freedom, offer some semblance of control over perceived threats.
IN ALL OF OUR COMMUNITIES, we have individuals in positions of authority who hide behind or ignore uncomfortable truths and problematic laws and policies.
IN ALL OF OUR COMMUNITIES, we have factions within them that are historically (or contemporarily) hostile to one another based on race, class, faith, country of origin or competition for resources.
So, my prayer is this:
1.) I pray that this is a moment where we have the courage to seriously look at the tensions in IN OUR OWN COMMUNITIES, ON OUR OWN CAMPUSES, IN OUR OWN INSTITUTIONS and figure out how to address them before they erupt in the kind of tragedy that has occurred in Sandford, Florida.
2.) My second prayer is that we---particularly people of faith-- tread a bit more lightly and compassionately into wounded communities that have enough to deal with on top of our national disdain and judgment.
3.) Finally, I pray that---when the glare of the national spotlight dims---there will be people of faith who will be willing to sit in Sandford, Florida communities, breathe with Sandford, Florida communities, cry with Sandford, Florida communities, pray with Sandford, Florida communities and aid Sandford, Florida communities in examining the fears, biases, strongholds keeping the from living well together and finding a fresh path forward.
Mobilization, rallies, righteous indignation and calls for justice absolutely have their place. I just hope there are those willing to join hands WITH those in Sandford and bear some of their burdens on the path to reconciliation and transformation.
As a nation that has been warring for a decade, we know well how to shoot one another. The ONGOING challenge is to commit to embracing one another so that we may SIMPLY LIVE.
---Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD
Nicole Anderson-Cobb, Ph.D. is a Chicago native who grew up on Chicago’s Southeast Side in the Calumet Heights community. Dr. Anderson-Cobb earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (1995), a Master’s degree in History (1998) and Doctorate of Philosophy in History from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (2007).
In addition to her work as a professor, Dr. Anderson-Cobb is also a playwright and CEO/Founder of Samaritan Road Productions Company. Samaritan Road Production Company is an umbrella entity for plays, courses and workshops that seek to promote reflection, dialogue, conflict resolution and personal, group and community transformation.
Dr. Anderson-Cobb’s play TANGLED---which examines gun violence in post-Obama Chicago--- opens at eta Creative Arts Foundation March 29-May 20, 2012. For more information, see http://myemail.constantcontact.com/TANGLED.html?soid=1101823335792&aid=TRCGxQv-xa8#fblik
For more information or to contact Dr. Anderson Cobb:
Nicole D. Anderson Cobb, Ph.D.
Samaritan Road Production Company
1717 W. Kirby Avenue
Champaign, Illinois 61821
Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD, Educator, Playwright & Founder of Samaritan Road Productions is the author of the SRP blog "Writing On The Go"