Zimmerman/Martin Case, Jackie Robinson, and the Elusiveness of Objectivity and Sympathy

I went to see the movie, 42, with my son on a rainy stormy night this week. The Jackie Robinson story appeals to me for a couple of reasons. First, I love baseball… with a passion. My sandlot days are over, but I still get jazzed slinging the ball around the yard and catching a great baseball movie or game with my son. Second, I hate racism. The portrayal of ignorant racists, white’s who were learning to change, and a black baseball player who worked to present himself as a gentleman in an environment that would have crushed most men provided a most inspirational true story.
It just so happened that I was watching this movie at a time that our nation was debating the verdict of the Zimmerman trial. I have been slow to comment on this trial because I have felt that I would be speaking out of ignorance. As much as I have followed the case (or have had the media plaster it in my face), I simply felt that I would be arrogant to say that I know what happened on that tragic night. I’ve been frustrated with the fact that Zimmerman didn’t just let the police handle the situation, and that Martin didn’t just jog on out of the neighborhood. I have been in both situations, and it usually (not always) takes two to make things go bad. I’ve been frustrated that one side argues that Zimmerman simply “stood his ground”, a right I support in theory. I’ve been equally put off by those who try to portray Martin as a ninety pound thirteen year old on the way home from Sunday School. Let’s face it, both men were stronger than their representatives made them out to be. And evidence was allowed that Martin had marijuana in his system. So, I was surprised that the prosecution did not come up with some lesser charges that were sure to stick. But as much as I hate racism, I was not surprised that the jury found reasonable doubt with the charges they were deliberating.
The difficulty in all of this – the verdict and public response, I reasoned, was remaining objective. Can conservative, 2nd Amendment-supporting, white men like me lay aside our preconceived notions and think objectively as we respond? Can we simply look at the facts of the case? Objectivity is the goal in getting a fair verdict and offering a fair public response, right? Can African Americans who have heard the slurs, heard the car doors lock as white people drive past them down the street, and who have heard much more horrific true stories from their parents and grandparents… can they lay aside their fears and preconceived notions and also look at the simple facts and evidence of the case objectively? Or will emotions influence their interpretation of the evidence? Can liberals respond without an agenda in mind? And, forgive me ladies (this might do me in!), can a jury of all women think objectively and logically without allowing their emotions to cause them to vote by how they feel rather than by looking at the evidence alone? This was my angle. Can any of us be objective? We can’t do away with our past, our experiences, our core convictions, our passions, or even our cultural baggage. But can we possibly be aware of these things and not allow them to blind us from an objective response? Objectivity!! That’s what we lack… right?
Back to the movie. There was an insightful scene in 42 in which Branch Rickey’s (Dodgers’ owner played by Harrison Ford) assistant, Harold, came into the owner’s office irate and nearly violent, which was out of character. He was angry about the way Jackie Robinson was being treated (watch the movie for the details – PG-13). Rickey responded by giving him a lesson in etymology. Specifically, he explained to him that he was feeling “sympathy.” Sympathy is the transliteration of a Greek compound word, literally meaning “to suffer with.” As this scene unfolded, I realized what I may have been personally missing in all of my frustration. Indeed, it’s something most of us may be lacking. Certainly the role of the jury requires and demands objectivity. However, lawyers will continue to do jury selection by eliminating those who cannot sympathize with their side of the case, which may ironically eliminate objectivity from many verdicts. Objectivity is so elusive.
But what I’ve seen lacking more than objectivity in our nation, and in my own heart, is the ability to sympathize and suffer with the ones with whom we disagree. Even if I believe the verdict was consistent with the evidence presented, can I sympathize with a dissenter who will march for what they perceive is a lack of justice? Can those who disagree with the verdict sympathize with a jury that was given a job description and sought and swore to do it to the best of their ability? Will those who march be able to sympathize with those who believe justice was served, without considering them to be racist? Can we sympathize with a mother who lost a son? Can we sympathize with a man who wanted to make his neighborhood safer and never thought his actions could result in someone’s death, regardless of how it happened?
Let’s carry this into other hot zones. Can I be staunchly and objectively pro-life and still sympathize with a young lady who had an abortion when she simply did not know what to do? Can someone be pro-choice and sympathize with the core conviction pro-lifers have, not to rob a woman of a choice, but to protect what they are convinced is an innocent life in the womb? Can I believe with all my heart that God has provided standards for sex, marriage, and holiness and still sympathize with those whose minds, hearts, and emotions tell them it is OK, even a must, to behave differently? I’m not saying I must agree with everyone. By no means am I suggesting we all compromise our beliefs to shout with Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?” I’m just saying that I am going to try to show some sympathy and understanding. And I pray that it will open doors of opportunity and build bridges for me to be able to explain why I believe what I believe, hopefully correcting the preconceived notions others might have about this conservative, white, evangelical Christian who wants to love and point everyone, regardless of race, to Jesus Christ, His Infallible Word, and life abundant and everlasting in Him!
We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with the feelings of our infirmities…” – Hebrews 4:15a