rev_dr_r_joaquin_willis_web.jpgOn Feb. 26, a promising 17-year-old black male, Trayvon Martin, stood his ground by turning and asking George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch man, “What are you following me for?” Trayvon was on the phone with his girlfriend at the time and she overheard the question.

Trayvon, by asking that question, stood his ground, which probably shocked, angered and threatened Zimmerman and that supposedly constituted justification, in part, for Zimmerman to shoot this unarmed young black male in the chest.

Trayvon’s death is extremely tragic, wasteful and unjust. My question today is: “Is God using Trayvon’s death to stand His ground?” And another question: “Is He using it to cast light upon the dangers of an unjust Florida law called ‘Stand Your Ground’?” It appears to me that God is using this shooting incident also to raise America’s moral conscience.

A few days after this senseless shooting, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts invited a few columnists to dinner with Michelle Alexander, author The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The age of Colorblindness. I was honored to be one of them. The event had been scheduled before Trayvon was killed but with the front-page story fresh on our minds and the facts still unfolding, we couldn’t help but discuss the case in the context of Alexander’s New York Times best-selling book, which one must read.

It was an informative dinner party and was followed by an interesting discussion led by theses two great writers at Books & Books in Coral Gables.

Alexander’s book points out that many factors led to the death of Jim Crow. Similarly, I wonder, could this be the case with the “Stand your Ground” law? For example, with regard to the death of Jim Crow, she cites “the influence of World War II and the blatant contradiction between the U.S. opposition to the crimes of the Third Reich against Jews and the continued existence of a racial caste system in the United States which was proving embarrassing and severely damaging to the U.S.’ credibility as leader of the ‘Free World.’”

Alexander states, regarding the climate of the Jim Crow era, “There was also increased concern and fear that, without greater equality for African Americans, blacks would become susceptible to communist influence, given Russia’s commitment to both racial and economic equality.”

Similarly, in the Trayvon Martin’s case, African Americans are showing increased concern over the many unjust shootings of black males. In protest, many young black males are now wearing “hoodies” as a symbol of the lack of moral consciousness and the dangers of racial profiling in America.

Regarding Trayvon’s death, Alexander stated, “Today, blacks are losing touch with moral forces and, in order to regain touch, we must do the hard work of building a movement to raise a new moral conscience, do some community organizing especially to end America’s dysfunctional and unsuccessful war on drugs which is being used by America as an instrument to disproportionately mass incarcerate blacks.”

By the way, Zimmerman, while on the phone with the police, described Trayvon Martin as a druggie looking for a house to rob.

In Scripture, Jehoshaphat, in II Chronicles 20: 15-17a, is fearful for his people, who are under attack by the Moabites and Ammonites and Mount Seir, who outnumber them with a powerful army.  Jehoshaphat tells the people to fast and pray. Through Jahaziel the Levite, God tells Jehoshaphat, “Do not be afraid or discouraged for the battle is not yours but God’s… You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your position; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.”

I believe if we, too, fast and bow down in prayer, we’ll see what Jehoshaphat saw as he looked up: “The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men of Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After they finished slaughtering the men of Seir, they helped to destroy one another.”

So how do we fight this battle? We do so by first realizing the battle is not ours but God’s, then by recognizing our human limitations and allowing God’s strength to intervene through our weakness. Finally, we do so by not asking the Lord to stand with us but by our standing with the Lord.

It appears to me God is in Trayvon Martin’s death, standing His ground, against Florida’s “Stand your Ground” law.

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at in Miami’s Liberty City community.  He may be reached at 305-759-0373 or