EDS President and Dean Katherine Hancock Ragsdale's Statement on the Zimmerman Trial Verdict

Like so much of the nation, members of the EDS community are shocked, outraged, and grief-stricken by the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Treyvon Martin. For me, however, it is not the verdict that outrages and grieves me so much as the killing itself, and this country's climate of violence, fear, and racism that led to it. 

As for the verdict, I don't know whether or not Zimmerman, by the time he used his gun, was in fear for his life - whether he really was, ultimately, acting in self-defense. I wasn't in court to hear, see, and examine the evidence. I do believe that Zimmerman never should have been involved in a confrontation he helped to create in the first place. While I must defer to the jury's judgment that Zimmerman's final actions were not criminal, there is no doubt in my mind that those actions were wrong. My heart yearns for a justice that was not served - that perhaps could not be served in a mere court of law. 

What outrages me most is that in the 21st century, in the United States of America, it is still not safe for black men or boys to venture outside their homes. Black men and boys are still, in soul-crushing numbers, stopped by police for driving the "wrong" car, being in the "wrong" neighborhood, or for myriad other reasons that all boil down to breathing-while-black. They're followed by store clerks to make sure they're not stealing; they're asked to identify themselves and justify their presence in any number of public places; they're suspected, followed, and killed by vigilantes like George Zimmerman or by random angry white men with guns, like the man who recently shot and killed a black teenager in a gas station parking lot over a fight about the volume on the teen's car radio.

What breaks my heart is not only the Martin family's loss but the thought of parents across this nation trying to figure out what they can tell their precious sons to keep them safe, living in fear every time their sons and husbands and fathers are out of their sight. 

We can do better than this. We must do better than this. Preach it from your pulpits or at the PTA; teach it in your classrooms and the corridors of your homes and offices; live it, every day, everywhere. Do not settle for less - from your neighbors or your nation. We can do better, but it will take all of us - especially those of us who are white, whose children are so much safer than their peers of colors, and who profit from the racism around us in thousands of ways we never notice. 

It has been 50 years since the struggles that brought us the (recently overturned) Voting Rights Act along with other Civil Rights legislation. Perhaps the time is now ripe for the next wave of the Civil Rights Movement - a movement to change not only this nation's laws but also its soul. May God, who gives us the will to reach for justice, give us the courage, strength, wisdom, and perseverance to achieve it.


The Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale
President and Dean
Episcopal Divinity School