The Verdict

My friend, Kathleen, wrote this post last week, and although days have passed since the George Zimmerman verdict, and the flurry of Facebook posts has begun to slow down, the words of a fellow adoptive mom are important for us to consider.

Last weekend was difficult at our house. We have many difficult weekends raising a household of boys (and one very sweet precious daughter!) but this one was different because of what was going on in the world around us. Last weekend was the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial and I know that some of the difficult conversations we were having at our house were being echoed around the country, and probably the world.

Here are some of the responses from our young black sons last weekend when we told them about the not guilty decision from the jury in Florida. 

“ I feel like I’m going to be the next Trayvon Martin.” (20 yr old)

“ It makes me feel like white people have more power.” (13 yr old)

“I feel like I’ve got to be so careful around white people.” (15 yr old)

What makes our conversations different is that we are adoptive parents of two sons from Kenya and have welcomed a young man from the projects of St. Louis as an unofficial part of the family.

When I think of all the other adoptive parents I know with young sons from Africa, foster care, or somewhere else, I wonder what they are telling their sons this weekend.  But here’s the difference… most of the adoptive parents I know have younger children than mine. We brought our boys home almost 10 years ago and they are well past the years where people smiled and commented on my “darling little black boys”.  I often wondered during those days what those same people might be saying about our sons when they became young black men who might tower over them.

I may not always know what they are saying these days, but I certainly don’t get comments about how darling my children are any more. What I do get are the uncomfortable stares, the eyes averted and the outright fear of people crossing the street – giving us a wide berth as we pass.  My boys make some white people uncomfortable.  My boys are handsome, smart, mostly well dressed (I have one who refuses to wear anything but athletic shorts and t-shirts), mostly well behaved (same kid… not always well behaved) but always respectful of others (especially if I’m there!).  Yet, these young men create fear in the eyes of those we pass, even when they are walking down the street with their old white mama!  It hurts my heart to think of the kind of looks they receive when they aren’t with the other members of our family who are white, and therefore not so scary in our predominately white neighborhood.

What hurts and scares me more is the reality of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.  These 6 women (5 white, 1 Hispanic) told my sons that anyone with a gun has the right to kill them if he feels afraid for his life in their presence.  Let’s be real here… MOST white people they encounter right now are fearful in their presence.  My boys are big, strong, young black men with confidence and poise and presence.  I have raised them to be exactly that.  In light of this verdict, have I done them a disservice? Should I have raised them to be subservient and fearful? Should I have taught them to lower their heads, avert their eyes and step aside when a white man passes? Is this what I needed to do to ensure that they will not make someone “fear for their life” in the presence of my boys and pull a gun on them? Should I have taught them that indeed white people do have all the power? At least a white man with a gun in Florida?

We have spent hours talking with our children about the realities of racism in our world. We have faced the ugliness of it in our own schools and neighborhood.  The very night of the George Zimmerman verdict our boys were walking around a major league baseball stadium in our diverse city and were told to “move aside, you jigaboos!”

When my husband responded that it was good he was not there when this slur was snarled at them on this particular night, the 20 yr old from the projects of St. Louis assured him that he wouldn’t respond to this racist at all because he knew that would mean prison time for him.  Sadly, he has learned his place in our society – he knows what it takes to stay out of prison.

Again as I ponder my friends with young black children from other cultures, I wonder what we should be teaching them now.  Should we teach them to fear those who look just like us – their families?

I don’t know what is right and what is wrong to teach my children. I know that this verdict has caused our family to discuss yet again the issues of race and power in America, and that’s okay. I just hope that parents raising white sons are having the same conversations about race and power with their children and teaching them that fear and hate are not the answers.  I hope they will learn the lesson shared by our 20 year old friend from the projects, who ended our conversation with these words,

“I’m gonna let go… I’m not gonna hold hate in my heart.”

 

Lisa

 

 

 

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

32 Comments

  1. Jennifer Litz Seivert
    July 22, 2013

    How I would love it if we lived in a color blind world and were able to see only the goodness inside people rather than focusing on differences on the outside. We were asked to adopt a sibling group of Hispanic children and while they are not as obviously different from us as a black child might be, we know from communication with other members of their biological family that racial profiling happens to Hispanics as well. I can so identify with you mama's that are trying to teach your children regardless of their race or ethnicity to stand tall and walk proud and yet are fearful that could lead to problems down the road. I choose to treat people with respect and will pray for God to protect me and those I love from harm.

    Reply
  2. Kayla
    July 22, 2013

    Just a hard thing to sort out as a mom: how do you protect your kids and create a realistic view of life without teaching them to negatively view the world? My little guy is almost 7 and looks like he is going to be a very tall, strongly muscled man. Yet he is also the most sensitive of my kids, the one who cries most easily, who just feels deeply.

    Reply
  3. Karen P
    July 22, 2013

    My "darling little black boy" is only four years old,but I am already wondering what it will be like for him when he is a teenager. Will the white kids he's grown up with distance themselves from him…will the parents of his white friends not want him to date their daughters? I'm learning to trust God in a new way and seek wisdom for new experiences.

    Reply
  4. Molly Kitsmiller
    July 22, 2013

    I do not know what it is like (yet) to raise a black son in a white family and would like to learn from this post and others. One thing, however, that I think is not totally accurate here – Trayvon Martin was not shot because George Zimmerman felt afraid for his life in his presence – but because he was attacked and being beat up. There is a huge difference. I think as Christians, we have to teach our young men that we turn the other cheek (not answering back to racial slurs) and treat others respectfully (not attacking them if they are following us). We do this not because our black sons should be ashamed or afraid but because as Christians, this is how we treat everyone.

    Lisa – I will totally understand if you don't post this comment if you think it will offend your readers – however, I do think that we have to be accurate about what really is going on in our world.

    Reply
    1. Michael
      July 22, 2013

      ^^ +1____I find it concerning that so many people have made the GZ case about race when the only person to knowingly inject race into the incident was TM who called GZ a "Cracker". All other racial tensions were created by the media and the emotionally, but not necessarily logically, driven consumers of their "news."

      Reply
      1. Ann
        July 22, 2013

        So many answers I could make here, Michael, but I'll confine myself to pointing out that when someone who's been asked by the police to take no action instead decides to arm himself, stalk someone, provoke a needless confrontation, and finally kill the person he's stalking, "cracker" is a pretty mild term for his victim to use.

        Reply
        1. Mike
          July 24, 2013

          Ann, you need some clarification.

          1. 911 operators are not police officers. They have no legal authority to tell me to do anything, so ignoring them is NOT ILLEGAL.
          2. Arming yourself is NOT ILLEGAL. Especially for GZ who has a CCW permit.
          3. Following someone who is walking through your neighborhood with the intent of determining intent is not stalking. Hence it is NOT ILLEGAL. Don't believe me? Take a look at the Florida law here: http://statelaws.findlaw.com/florida-law/florida-
          4. How did he provoke a confrontation? By following him? Unless he touched him or threatend him, what GZ did was….NOT ILLEGAL.
          5. "Finally kill the person he's stalking"….. Well, GZ did kill him so I guess you got that part right but again, you have not proven how he "stalked" him.

          I await your response. And please, use facts, not emotion.

          Reply
      2. Ann
        July 22, 2013

        (Lisa, I think it's appropriate to push back to Michael's and Molly's comments and will try to moderate my anger this time.) As Christians, we're called to advocate for the downtrodden–think of Isaiah 61:1. Neither Michael nor Molly mentions the fact that GZ followed TM after the police had specifically told him not to–he was the aggressor–and both of them present this as a struggle between equals instead of an armed man and an unarmed 17-year-old. If racism had not been involved (and my certain conviction is that it was), GZ hunted a minor, in defiance of police instructions, and then killed him. Nothing is served by letting our black or white children think this was fair in any way–or that turning the other cheek is what's called for in situations like this.

        Reply
        1. Mike
          July 24, 2013

          Ann, so GZ "hunted a minor?" How much does that tag cost? But seriously…

          It sounds like what you are saying is that GZ followed TM, walked up to him, and shot him, unprovoked, right? Well, I would hate to be the bearer of bad news but GZ was tried for that and found not guilty by six women, who were present at the trial in its entirety. But I guess you were there so you must have seen it with your own eyes.

          You like to quote the Bible, huh? How about…"Thou shalt not bear false witness" (A commandment). Or how about not gossiping, since you were not there. I believe Proverbs, Ephesians, and Titus all address that topic.

          I'm a Christian too. Not sure why you are judging GZ's heart since you are not God or his actions, since you were not there.

          Reply
          1. ahhodgman
            July 24, 2013

            You know we're not going to convince each other on this, but you can't say that the jury didn't judge GZ's heart. It's just that they judged his heart the way you judge it.

            And you weren't there with your own eyes either. You're making your own decisions based on your own prejudices, just as I am. Just as we all are. Why would I find what you say persuasive when the only "evidence" you've offered here is that GZ was found innocent? There's far more evidence showing that GZ never needed to involve himself in this saga.

            GZ liked calling the police–and 911 is synonymous with calling the police, so people should definitely obey what 911 operators tell them. Here are 47 pages' worth of documented calls he made to 911. It's clear from the nature of some of the calls exactly what he was like–no face-to-face needed for anyone who can read:
            https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/doc

          2. Mike
            July 24, 2013

            You're probably right that we might not convince each other. But that does not mean that we cannot educate each other on the facts. And if you are going to present an argument filled with emotion based cliches such as, "It's not right", or "he shouldn't have", then we are not going to get anywhere and we should probably just end conversation right here. But let's just get some facts straight. You can debate me all you want but facts are facts.

            1. I did not say the jury did not judge his heart. They very wel may have factored that. But in the end, he was acquitted of the charges, which is saying, "He did not do ____". There is nothing in that statement about what he was feeling, just what he did or did not do. Also, I did not judge his heart, I judged guilt/non-guilt based on the evidence of his actions.

          3. Mike
            July 24, 2013

            2. I never said I was there. I was commenting on other people judging GZ or the jury who were not present for either the confrontation or the trial. Please do not put words in my mouth. No, I am not making decisions based on prejudices regarding GZ. I made a judgment based on evidence presented. If evidence were presented that GZ made the first physical contact, then yes, he was guilty. But the state did not prove it, therefore, he was acquitted. I did present more evidence than you suggest. Did you miss the point about the state of Florida's definition of "stalking". In it you will notice that it says malicious. Considering GZ, acting as a neighborhood watchman, was following TM to make sure he was not a thief, there is no proof of maliciousness on GZ's part. And just to let you know, jurys do not find people "innocent." All they can find is either guilty or not guilty. "GZ never needed to involve himself"…………true, but it was NOT ILLEGAL either. Please see my previous posts.

          4. Mike
            July 24, 2013

            3. "People should definitely obey what 911 operators tell them."……Okay, but if they don't it's NOT ILLEGAL because they are not police officers.

            Still waiting for a dispute of facts not what he should have done or needed to to.

    2. Karen
      July 22, 2013

      To raise a black child is to lose your seat on the white privilege bus. To see the world through the brown eyes of your brown-skinned child. If you are planning to adopt a black child, you need to know that. You need to step off the "blame the victim" bandwagon and be a part of the rising up of society to condemn racism — to root it out of any corner where it is hiding. To see that George Zimmerman had no "right" to be menacingly following Trayvon because he made the judgment call that a black male did not belong in that neighborhood. To be outraged that anyone would make that judgment call. Because if you aren't going to be an advocate for your child to have the right to exist free of being guilty of blackmaleness, who is?

      Reply
      1. lovefromheretothere
        July 22, 2013

        Karen, you SAID IT! Thank you!

        Reply
    3. Janell
      July 22, 2013

      Molly- A boy armed with skittles and iced tea was followed by a vigilante and ultimately was shot. GZ was told repeatedly to stay in the car, he didn't. He killed a child.

      And you have your facts wrong, at least according to Zimmerman. He shot Martin because he felt afraid for his life. That's what claiming self- defense is.

      "What's really going on in our world." "Not attacking them if they are following us?" OMG.

      Reply
      1. enkafan
        July 22, 2013

        Janell,

        He didn't have an iced tea with him. You have unfortunately found yourself a victim of the mainstream media. See http://baynews9.com/content/mobile/news/baynews9/… and http://www.examiner.com/article/trayvon-s-skittle

        The 911 civil servant who advised Mr. Zimmerman that he didn't need to follow him testified under oath that he had no authority over callers. Further, the 911 civil servant at the non-emergency line continued to ask Mr. Zimmerman about Mr. Martin's whereabouts, which certainly led to some confusion, and ultimately, to the bloody ambush on Mr. Zimmerman.

        Reply
    4. Therese
      July 22, 2013

      Why, oh, why, do people keep repeating, "TM was beating up GZ" like it is some kind of fact? Can't you at least be accurate and say "GZ alleges that TM was beating him up"? There is this whole thing about being innocent until proven guilty and it's particularly despicable to make these accusations about someone who isn't here to tell his side of the story.

      Reply
    5. Barb
      July 22, 2013

      I agree with you, Molly. After following the trial, I came away with the same thing. The media and certain other people have turned this into a 'race' war. I am a mother to children of a different race. I am trying to teach them to treat everyone respectfully and kindly, because that is what God expects us to do.

      Reply
    6. michelle
      July 22, 2013

      I just have to say that Molly's point is very important here. Apparently Zimmeran was told by Martin that Zimmerman was going to die that night. When Zimmerman felt Martin reach toward Zimmerman's gun, what in the world was he supposed to do? Sadly, reverse racism exists in our culture too. Zimmerman was not afraid of Martin becuase he was black, but because of his actions. I hope you don't think I'm insensitive to the topic of racism because I am not. It needs to discussed in love and understanding and respect…and truth.

      Reply
      1. prayingintruth
        July 24, 2013

        Amen. My son is black, but I cannot see this as the race issue the media has turned it into. The jury found him innocent. A jury chosen by BOTH sides. WE do not have all the facts. WE were not there that night. It is important that we accept that it may not have been driven by race at all.

        Reply
    7. ahhodgman
      July 23, 2013

      I'd like to interject here that it's naive for anyone to believe that the media should be non-biased. All reporting is biased, one way or another. The New York Times's coverage of the Civil War differed from that of the Daily Richmond Examiner; the Washington Post's coverage of the Vietnam War differed from that of the Wall Street Journal; the New England Journal of Medicine runs articles about illness that will have a very different point of view from articles in Aquarius.

      Networks and newspapers are owned and run by human beings. Human beings have points of view. The facts that reporters choose to emphasize are based on what the reporters think is important. Viewers and readers decide which media they want to follow. And rarely does anyone change his/her mind based on "the facts." Most of us bring our biases along with us when we watch or read the news, and most of us interpret "the facts" accordingly.

      Reply
  5. Deborah
    July 22, 2013

    Oh how I needed this!! Does she blog?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 22, 2013

      Only when I can get her to blog for me 🙂 Lucky for me, Kathleen is one of my very best friends.

      Reply
  6. Janell Toppen
    July 22, 2013

    Powerful post, and so sad it is necessary in this day and age.

    Reply
  7. Michele Killean Rice
    July 22, 2013

    This is a wonderful essay, Lisa. Thank you for posting it.

    Reply
  8. Brenda T.
    July 22, 2013

    I agree with so many of her words. Racism still exists in our society, both overtly and covertly. But I disagree with boiling this trial down to a "black vs. white" issue. I think that fuels racist attitudes. George Zimmerman is Hispanic. Not whilte. None of us know all of the details of that night, and I think it is too simplistic to say that Trayvon Martin was killed because "a white man was afraid of him." This is not an easy issue. I agree that discussions need to happen. Discussions across racial lines. We too have experienced racism. I am married to a Hispanic man, living in North Idaho, where diversity is all but non-existent, and we have 2 beautiful Hispanic looking children. I walked home from the 4th of July fireworks in our town with tears in my eyes as those around us threw derogatory remarks out about "Mexicans." I wanted to hold my babies and cover their ears. But we too are teaching them too hold their heads up high. I was not there the night George Zimmerman shot Trayvon, but God was and He will judge. In the meantime, I will continue to raise my children to be proud of their heritage, to hold their heads high, and to treat everyone with dignity.

    Reply
  9. M Freeman
    July 22, 2013

    I mourn for our country that your precious, beautiful children have to live in a world, even in the 21st century, where too many can still only see skin color (and gender as well), and not the heart and soul of a person. I wish with all my heart that racism didn't exist, and hope more than anything that I'm rasing my children to not see one person as less than another because of their race, gender, faith, or income level.

    That said, I can't blame the jurors or the judicial process for any of this. I didn't see what evidence was presented, nor was I in the deliberation room to hear the arguments. I can only assume they did not see enough evidence to convict GZ of guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt. Constitutionally, we *always* must start with the assumption that the accused (GZ) is completely innocent, and the whole burden of proof lies on the prosecution (TM's family), which obviously didn't proove their case for whatever reason. We have to trust that jurors were selected who could be impartial. Can that system be wrong? Yes. But we still have to trust it, and allow the appeals process to route out any wrongs. We can't get outraged and decide that we, who cannot be impartial, must know better and protest the system.

    I do completely blame the media, whose goal seems to be to stir up controversy within society in order to get as many people to watch as possible. We really were done a huge disservice by the news media, who overly portrayed caricatured extremes of these two people. We ended up assuming so many things about two people we really knew nothing about. All I know about this case is what I was allowed to see on TV, controlled by people who are financially motivated to control my perspectives and emotional states.

    I also was initially assuming GZ must be guilty. The not-guilty verdict was initially a kick in the head of what I thought was true. But if I step back outside of the emotional chaos and think logically about what has just happened, I have to honestly say that I know next to nothing about this.

    So, I also mourn for our country that so many of us riot, or cry out in rage, because "justice wasn't served", when a trial didn't convict a person whom was guilty by default in our minds, thanks to the media.

    Reply
  10. AnotherMom
    July 23, 2013

    The jury may well have rightly convicted according to the laws of the state of Florida. Problem is the law in Florida apparently allows an armed man to instigate a confrontation with an unarmed teenager, against the instruction of the 911 operator (OK, he had no authority, but still – police were on the way), and then successfully claim self-defense when the confrontation apparently turned ugly. I can't imagine what this feels like from the perspective of a young black man. Kudos to you for keeping these conversations open and working toward better understanding between people of different backgrounds and different colors. Beautiful post, thank you so much for sharing your experience.

    Reply
  11. prayingintruth
    July 24, 2013

    I already posted one comment, but I would like to throw this out there (for anyone who thinks this was a racial act)….what if the crime was committed by a black man shooting a white teen? Stop for one minute and check what your first reaction to that scenario is….

    …..

    Do you start justifying the black man's actions? Do you feel scared? What is your reaction? Do you think there would be ANY media coverage???

    Truly think about it.

    Reply
    1. ahhodgman
      July 24, 2013

      When GZ's lawyer was asked the same question, he said, "If the positions had been reversed, the black man wouldn't have been charged." An absurd and hurtful thing for any lawyer to say, especially when a black woman in FL was recently sentenced 20 years in jail for firing a pistol into the air to frighten off her abusive husband. Under the same Stand Your Ground law.

      Reply
  12. Brenda T.
    July 24, 2013

    Again, he was Hispanic, not white. Why do we let the media get us on an emotional trip and dictate our opinions about this case? Because our President wrongly convicted a man in the media before he was tried in a court of law? Why do we not outrage at all of the black men killing black men on a daily basis??

    Reply

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