In the wake of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, Rabbi Joshua Z. Gruenberg ponders the implications of Zimmerman's actions against Trayvon Martin and what they say about present-day American society.
BY: Rabbi Joshua Gruenberg
I have now seen thousands of Facebook posts with people pictured in “hoodie” sweatshirts proclaiming, “I am Trayvon Martin.” I understand the purpose of these posts, but in truth I am not Trayvon Martin and I never will be. As a white Jewish American living in the Northeast Unites States, I will never know what is like to be Martin where one might be judged as dangerous based on the color of one’s skin. But this episode and the horrific quick decision that George Zimmerman made is emblematic of a growing epidemic in this country.
Just a few short years ago Rutgers student Tyler Clementi killed himself in another manifestation of this problem in America today. In that episode, two seemingly great kids made a bad decision that will affect the lives of many people forever. Clemneti jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his rommate and another student set up a webcam that spied on Tyler, who was gay, and showed him kissing another man.
I can’t help but think that had it not been so easy for them to post the pictures — had there actually been a two-minute wait to execute the post — that during that time they might have realized the error of what they were about to do.
I also can’t help but wonder had George Zimmerman been forced to stop and take but a few moments to think seriously about what he was doing whether or not he might have realized that what he was about to do could not have had any kind of positive outcome.
The epidemic that I speak of is the conflict between correct behavior and capability. In other words, it is time that Americans en masse realize that just because we can do something does not mean that we should.
For too long in America, we have raced to discover all that we are able to do. This is not entirely a bad thing. In fact, much of our desire to scale new barriers has lead to some of the greatest innovations in the last 50 years. But it can go too far.
There are times when these new discoveries lead us down a dangerous path. For example, when the Internet was of the dial-up variety, it took much longer to send anything, thereby giving the “poster” a few precious moments to genuinely think about the appropriateness of sending a message or a picture. In the days before cell phones, the lack of immediate contact offered one more time to internalize whether or not the call was worthwhile and the necessity of placing it.
We will wonder for days and weeks about how this horrible tragedy could have been avoided. But none of that wondering will bring Trayvon back to those who love him and it will not address the underlying epidemic that is growing every day in this great country. If we truly want to say, “I am Trayvon Martin,” we should use this mantra to help spread the idea that we all need to take a step back from all of our human ability and stop worrying so much about whether or not we can do something and focus more on whether or not we should.
Rabbi Joshua Gruenberg is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El in Yardley.