By Imam Khalid Griggs
During the first half ofthe 20th century, Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, sage, human rights activist, and social commentator, asked a rhetorical question to African Americans, the perpetual victims of American racial injustice, “How does it feel to be a problem?; to have your very body and the bodies of your children assumed to be criminal, violent, malignant.”
The July 13 not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman in the slaying of 17 -year old teenager Trayvon Martin echoes the ominous implications of Dr. Dubois’ question of almost a century ago. Is equitable treatment and criminal justice possible for those identified by America’s 21st century racial and religious bigots as “problems?”
The criminal justice system in the United States is a microcosm of the social and racial attitudes ofthe larger society. For example, in 1857, Chief Justice Taney ofthe U.S. Supreme Court wrote in the majority decision in the landmark Dred Scott Decision, ” … beings of an inferior order (Blacks) and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” So it should come as little surprise that in today’s retrograde climate there has been a virtual repeal by the Supreme Court of the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, voter suppression in multiple states, a rollback of Affirmative Action, genocidal consequences from the wars on drugs and terror, and violent targeting of Muslims and Islamic houses of worships by religious and racial bigots.
Social and religious freedoms in this country were won through the valiant sacrifices of thousands of common citizens and courageous leadership, not by the largesse or graciousness of enlightened politicians or judges. In order to safeguard these hard-fought freedoms, Muslims and all Americans must stand together to resist racial and religious bigotry, wherever it may exist.
The Trayvon Martin tragedy is another indicator of the state of racial attitudes in America today. A random sampling of various social media sites after the Zimmerman verdict indicates the vast polarity of racial attitudes existing today. We join with millions of other Americans in expressing outrage at the denial of justice to the family ofTrayvon Martin. We decry the message that was sent by this jury, even if inadvertently, that profiling, stalking, and harming and individualbecause of the color of his/her skin will go unpunished. As Muslims, we will actively engage with others in demanding equitable, fair, and just treatment for everyone, regardless of class, color, national origin, or religion.
Imam Khalid Abdul Fattah Griggs is the Imam of the Community Mosque of Winston-Salem, Associate Chaplain for Muslim Life at Wake Forest University, Vice President of Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), member of Central Shura of ICNA, and Board Chairman ICNA Council for Social Justice. He is a founding member of Muslims for Social Justice (NC), member of Movement to End Racism and Islamophobia, Board member of Interfaith Winston-Salem, and Trustee of Parliament of the World’s Religions.
Imam Khalid is a human rights and prison reform activist, national lecturer, freelance writer and author of Come Let Us Change This World: A Brief History of the Islamic Party in North America. He is the former editor of ICNA’s Message Magazine, community access television Board Chairman, producer, and host, and Co-convener of Black Leadership Roundtable of Winston-Salem Forsyth County.