Pastor, radio host urge soul searching after Zimmerman verdict


— The aftermath of the controversial verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial should lead to more than just protest in the black community.

The result should pave the way for serious soul searching within a community that often falls victim to the violence bought, not by outsiders, but by other young African Americans, said Reverend Jamal Bryant, pastor of the more than 10,000 member Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore.

“With all the protests about the Zimmerman case, it would be hypocritical for us to come out and cheer and shout and wave signs for Trayvon Martin and remain silent for the 120 black babies in Baltimore who have been killed this year alone with no rally,” said Bryant, who helped to lead a rally on July 20, 2013 at the federal courthouse in Baltimore to protest Zimmerman’s acquittal in the 2012 murder of Martin, an unarmed black teen. “While there is the matter of what happened in Sanford, Florida, we still have to deal with what’s happening on Saratoga Avenue.”

Pastor Jamal Harris Bryant at the March of Justice

Pastor Jamal Harris Bryant at the March of Justice

Recently, a parishioner at Bryant’s Primrose Avenue church had her throat slashed on the streets of Baltimore and the outrage wasn’t nearly as palpable as Zimmerman’s acquittal, though it should have been, Bryant pointed out.

Martin, who was returning to his father’s home after buying a drink and a bag of skittles from a local grocery store, has proved unfortunately, to be the sacrificial lamb that awakened the consciousnesses of black America, said former State Senator Larry Young, who heads Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Baltimore. Young also hosts a morning radio talk show on WOLB.

“We have to figure out what we’re going to do right here in Baltimore, what we’re going to do in Chicago, Detroit and our other communities where black youths are losing their lives every day,” Young said. “We have to remain vigilant about fighting the problems that our young people face.”

Both Young and Bryant said they are committed to finding solutions.

Bryant is planning a series of events in Baltimore, including a gun buy back program. To date, Bryant and church members have raised $10,000 to host the gun buy program and City Hall has agreed to match that total. The event is scheduled at the Baltimore City Police Department on August 6, 2013.

“Also, one day before that, on August 5, we will have a memorial service for the families of all those who have lost their lives in Baltimore this year,” Bryant said.

The longtime pastor, whose father John R. Bryant is the Presiding Prelate of the Fourth Episcopal District of the AME Church, is also pushing a concept called, “2.0,” in which he will discuss the various states that have “Stand Your Ground” laws. According to Bryant, that law is viewed by many as most responsible for Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict, was largely ignored by African Americans, thus no one fought passage of it.

Bryant noted that it failed to protect Florida resident Marissa Alexander, who fired her gun as a warning to her abusive husband. Despite not injuring anyone in the shooting, Alexander, a 31-year-old black woman used the “Stand Your Ground” defense but was found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and received a 20-year prison sentence.

“The judge wouldn’t let her use the ‘Stand Your Ground’ defense and it’s a law that should be knocked down. I plan to meet with Ms. Alexander,” said Bryant who traveled to Florida on July 22, 2013.

Both Young and Bryant said they intend to continue to pressure the U.S. Department of Justice to file federal civil rights violation charges against Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch captain who shot Martin after a confrontation in 2012.

“The issue that I’m raising now is what would our response have been if George Zimmerman was black? We cannot just raise outrage when the crime is perpetrated by someone outside the race,” Bryant said.