A Culture of Fear Acquitted: A Rational Explanation Of Why Zimmerman’s Acquittal Is Bothersome

In the last 24 hours I’ve had two people, one in person and the other via facebook, ask me to explain my perspective on the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case. As one of them put it, “You are using a rational approach to expressing the same thing I have seen expressed much less rationally but still do not understand.” I imagine there are others of you who are struggling to understand why people—in particular, black-Americans—are at the least disheartened and at the most enraged that George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder as well as the lesser charge of manslaughter.

First let me clarify that I totally understand why George Zimmerman was acquitted. In a case with no other witnesses aside from Zimmerman it is extremely difficult to provide substantial evidence that he was lying, omitting facts or details, or otherwise twisting the truth. The justice system worked the way it is supposed to. Zimmerman was innocent until proven guilty and the prosecution had very little to work with. I am not God nor do I presume to be. The problem I have is: in a way, someone or something else was acquitted right along with Zimmerman. In the minds of myself and many others racial profiling aimed at black men was excused as well.

It was bad enough that black men have had to be concerned about being profiled and pulled over by police or profiled by security in malls and stores. Now the outcome of this trial has now a green light for civilians to profile pursue and detain black men they deem suspicious. We know better than to get mouthy or defend ourselves against police officers and security personnel, even though we’ve done nothing wrong. The outcome of this trial means that in at least 25 states with Stand Your Ground Laws, we can no longer defend ourselves against civilians who would find us—as we say—“under the suspicion of being black” and attempt to question or even detain us. That is where we feel the justice system failed us. That is where we feel the sting of inequality.

There are some making genuine attempts to look at this case objectively who would balk at my assessment because it is rooted in my and others personal experiences of being profiled. Many would suspect us of playing the race card and allowing our paranoia of racism and prejudice to shape our interpretation of these events and experiences. Many don’t understand why we assume that the interaction between Zimmerman and Martin was racially motivated occurrence. However, it’s not just black people who are greatly concerned about what the verdict of this trial means for racial profiling. There is a growing generation of white-Americans who have skin in the game.

Here is a snippet of what a friend, who is white, posted as they tried to sort through their emotions, “Right now I’m teaching all four of my children to fight back, scream for help, bite, kick or whatever they need to do to resist an attacker. But one day, when they’re older, I need to tell two of them to do the opposite, and not defend themselves because it’s too dangerous. Two of my sons are black so I’ve been reading and listening for years to black parents—who’ve lived through profiling by police, store clerks and their neighbors—that I need to teach my twins as they mature NOT to resist or fight even if they’ve done nothing wrong because it’s too dangerous. They must completely submit lest someone decide to issue their own form of justice and end their lives because they look ‘suspicious’.”

Let me reiterate I am not God nor do I presume to be. I don’t know anymore than anyone else whether or not George Zimmerman’s account of what happened that night is completely true or a lie. Nor do I presume to know what the intentions of his heart were that day. In a lot of ways, this isn’t even about Zimmerman and Trayvon anymore. Our society has packaged sold and promoted an image of black men that is overwhelmingly negative and brews fear, mistrust and suspicion. I am sure of this because I have even found myself to be suspicious of black men for no other reason than they were black all in the name of being safe. It’s an awful feeling to realize that you would be suspicious of yourself if you saw you in a different part of town and dressed differently. Popular media such as music, movies, TV shows and especially the ten o’clock news anywhere near an urban area reinforces the message that black men are a menace to society. I had a sinking feeling about the verdict not because I was convinced that Zimmerman was guilty, but because I felt as though the justice system acquitted a culture that says I’m a menace and suspicious. I feel as though the justice system justified the people who stare and keep an eye on me when I’m out with my wife or out in public with students in my youth ministry (just about all of whom are white). And that is why many of us who are fathers, mothers, wives, sons and daughters, neighbors and co-workers of black men are concerned about what this verdict means. It justified the caricature of black men in pop culture that is one of the root causes of the suspicion people have about them.

This is Your Brain on Porn: What Parents Need to Know and Do

Your Brain on Drugs

For anyone around during the late 80s you will remember the big anti-narcotics campaign launched by the Partnership for a Drug Free America in 1987, in no small part due to their very visual illustration. For those of you too young to remember those public service announcements let me just say that I don’t think I’d be going out on a limb if I were to say that they were a very effective piece of advertising. Partnership for a Drug Free America had as two of their central goals to educate people to the harmful consequences of drug use and to get parents talking to their kids about the dangers of drugs.

I think it’s safe to say that there won’t be a Partnership for a Porn Free America anytime soon. The pornography industry is too big, and too many other industries have their hands in the pocket of what has grown into a multi-million dollar industry annually. However, the message needs to start getting out. Porn is bad for your brain. This message needs to start getting out because the folks behind the wheel are busy trying to build their customer base by making pornography seem “fun” and “normal”, and unfortunately they’re really good at what they do.

Over the summer at Challenge, the Christian youth conference we attend, one of the speakers on the main stage was Craig Gross of XXX-Church, a ministry that specializes in porn awareness, prevention, and addiction recovery. If I were to summarize what he said, I would show you the clip of the “This is Your Brain on Drugs” PSA. Later on in the week, during our large group meetings, many of our students mustered up the courage to confess to the group that they had become addicted to pornography. Read MANY, as in lots of them confessed which mean many more who were struggling with porn said nothing, at least not in the large group setting of one hundred of us. Read STUDENTS, as in it wasn’t just the boys who confessed to being addicted to pornography it was some of our girls as well. These students weren’t just confessing so they could get it off their chest they were asking for help, and as many of them felt powerless to break from it. Yet it was clearly wearing on them. For the most part it was just our younger Junior High age students who spoke up, even though we know many of our High School teens struggle with it they were largely silent in the large group setting.

Convicted or not of their usage, pornography is a morally bankrupt and perverted fantasy world educating and shaping what sexual intimacy and sexual relations is and looks like for billions of people, and this is of no concern for the people making money from it. Admittedly we probably haven’t done enough as a youth ministry to truly help our students who are struggling, and thus why I am posting this article. I believe that one step in the right direction is to more intentionally bring parents into the loop, to educate and equip parents to engage this issue. I don’t like being an alarmist and hate to use fear as a way to motivate people to do something. One of the things that I appreciated about Craig Gross in his talk is that he didn’t use either one of those tactics (as I’ve seen others do) and yet was very straightforward and real about how troubling pornography addiction is. So here we go. What as parents of teenagers do you need to know and do to come alongside your children in the area of pornography?

1. Awareness: The reason why I used the illustration of the 80s anti-drug PSA is because studies have shown that pornography has the exact same affect on the brain as does narcotic drugs, and thus why porn is so addictive. It would not be a stretch to classify pornography as a drug as it induces the exact same chemical activity in the brain. When watching pornography the human brain is flooded with dopamine, which causes the brain cells to produce a feeling of excitement or well-being, often referred to as the reward signal. Because of the sensation in the brain it creates, it helps guide human behavior. Quite literally it creates and strengthens connections in the brain associated with behaviors and activities that make a person feel good.

Many of you have probably taken the preliminary step of setting up firewalls and parental settings on any computers in the house, which is a good thing, but it is not enough. I guarantee you your kids know how to get around it. Some restrictions and firewalls are better than none at all, but none of them are perfect, and you’re kidding yourself if you think that your kid won’t figure out a way around it, and cover their tracks (delete the history or browse privately), if they have their mind set on it. However, the home computer is not the only place where porn is accessible, and no I’m not referring to their friend’s house where the parents aren’t keeping an eye on things.

2. Accessibility: I’m guessing most parents probably don’t realize what the main devices are that people accessing porn on that have the weakest prevention settings. Xbox 360, Playstation 3, iPods, iPhones, iPads, and any smart phone. Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 are not simply a video game system, they are entertainment systems with which you can stream Netflix, Hulu, and browse the Internet. iPods, iPhones, and iPads, use Safari as their web browser which has a “private browsing” setting where you can surf the web without any of your activity being tracked in the history.

3. Prevention: There is no perfect way to prevent pornography from coming into your home. However, the online software provided by www.xxxchurch.com is the best that I know about. The software they’ve created is more of a watchdog that tracks the online activity on a computer or wi-fi enabled devices like smartphones. Designed to be a accountability software it sends a weekly email to a selected recipient of a list of all the porn sites visited on that device. This list even includes any sites that are considered questionable and includes the day and the time of when it was visited.

Conclusion

Pornography isn’t going away. Many signs are showing that it is becoming more and more socially acceptable. While I don’t think it is fruitless to try to do whatever you can to keep pornography out of reach of your children, I believe there is something else parents must do which is far more important. Talk to your children about the dangers and trappings of pornography the same way you would talk to them about drugs. You can’t simply ignore it and assume it won’t be an issue like in previous generations because it is far more accessible than when the only place you could get it was over a counter and pay-per-view television. Today you can watch hundreds of movies without dropping a dime on any device that can access the Internet. Ultimately here are the two questions you should ask yourself….

  1. Should my child begin to dabble in or become addicted to pornography do they have a safe place to come clean and get help?
  2. Have I established the kind of relationship with my child that they know that home is a safe place to confess and seek help?

I Really Hate It When…

It’s a fairly harmless question, no ill will intended, and yet it raises the hair on the back of my neck. It’s sometimes an exercise in self-control because I’m tempted to answer sarcastically to make a point and likely offend the inquirer which would achieve nothing. But the fact of the matter is I’m not crazy, I’m not brave, and it doesn’t require courage to take MY group of junior high students out in public on an activity or event. Myself and the other adults that have committed to investing in the lives of young teens who are not our own are regularly affirmed for our bravery and courage to take 30-40 junior high students out to the beach, the mall, wherever, and asked afterwards if we survived. I’ve said it before from the pulpit but I’ll say it again here. We have a good group of kids.

Just this weekend we took 34 of them to the mall to do Christmas Shopping. No one “got lost”, was left behind, was a nuisance, or tempted us to purchase one of those kiddie leashes usually reserved for toddlers. Personally I had a group of 11 of them with me, and it was quite enjoyable and easy. They stayed together, they communicated with me if they were going into another store, they knew where to wait for the rest of the group if they finished in a store ahead of the rest of us. They didn’t complain about little stuff, they were patient with one another, they were polite and courteous of other shoppers, didn’t break anything including the hurricane simulator that they managed to stuff way too many persons into, and no one sneaked out of the movie we went to see as a group. I really didn’t even have to keep track of them because one of them took it upon himself to keep tabs on everyone else (in a way that didn’t get under their skin) and keep me updated on who was in what store in the vicinity that we stopped in.

This past weekend was not an anomaly of their normal behavior when we take them out in public. It is what we’ve come to expect, because that is what they’ve consistently demonstrated. As I said to one of the other adult leaders, “In nearly seven years of working with this group they’ve never given me a reason.” They’ve never given me a reason to be suspicious of them, so naturally I become a little annoyed and even irritated when people talk about them in a way that assumes that they are nothing, but trouble waiting to happen. I’ve been thinking about why I get irritated by inquiries of my survival, and affirmations of my bravery and courage, and here is what I’ve landed on.

1. I can only speak for my group. Common consensus is that Junior High age kids don’t have a long attention span, are combative of authority, are squirrelly and extremely difficult to manage. While I can’t speak for early adolescents universally I can speak for the group that I work with, and I would say that they are a joy to work with. Their attention span can be very long as long as whatever it is their being asked to sit for merits the attention. They thrive with well defined boundaries and feel safe when they know they can trust those in the positions of authority.

2. I don’t know what they’re like at home. But I know that they come from good homes. Whether it be two parent or one parent homes, the overwhelming majority of students I work with come from families with parents who take the role of parenting seriously and are not trying to be their child’s friend. Certainly all of them test their parents at home as is only natural for adolescents. However, many of them are mindful to represent their families well, and have been warned of consequences for not holding to a certain behavioral standard when under the authority of other adults they’ve been entrusted to. I’m thankful that across the board the parents within the local church body I am a part of make our life easier as youth leaders by holding their children to a high standard in the home. I’m grateful that though some students may push it at home with their parents they know how to act when their parents aren’t around, because of their parents.

3. They listen. They hear when you sell them short. This is something that I was guilty of when I was lamenting (on a previous trip) how a previous class spoiled us as adult leaders because there were a handful of them always intuitively stepping up and looking for ways to serve the group (which is uncommon amongst any age group). It got back to me that some of the students overheard this and were a little hurt because they interpreted it as me not being happy with them and not liking them as much. The innocent comments of survival bravery and courage are most often made in the presence of the students and I can’t help but consider the inference they must hear. I imagine that they hear that adults think they are nothing more than wild animals that are hazardous to your mental health. Early adolescents are understandably insecure enough with all the changes they are undergoing without it being inferred that to spend time with them means your very survival is at stake, and requires bravery. The last message any early adolescent needs to receive is that they aren’t normal.

So if you happen to ask me, even in jest, if I survived a youth event, or compliment me on my ‘bravery’ for giving my time to spend with Junior High age students and I hesitate or look puzzled for a moment you know why.