In an impromptu moment at the White House Press Briefing on July 19, 2013, the President weighed-in on the Zimmerman verdict and acknowledged the racial divide. “The African-American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws, everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws,” he said. “And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.”
Following the President’s comments, Fox News commentators and other right-wing radicals uniformly raised the question, should the African American community be focusing on “black on black crime” instead of on Zimmerman? This same group who made the claim that President Obama injected race in the discussion of the Trayvon Martin killing are the same ones that are now making the claim that the media is ignoring the issue of “black on black” crime. Although 94% of black victims were killed by Black offenders, 86% of white victims were killed by White offenders. As a general rule, offenders commit crimes within their own neighborhoods. It is interesting to note that males born in 2001 have the following chance of spending time in prison at some point in his life: 32% Black; 17% Hispanic; and only 6% White. There should not be such disparity in an affluent nation as America.
Although the Right Wing component of the conservative base blamed President Obama and some liberal organizations with injecting race into the Zimmerman discussion, the racism rhetoric was actually stoked by conservative media especially Fox News. You may recall that Fox News commentators and their allies predicted, among other things, that there would be riots following the Zimmerman decision. Of course, the talk of violence originated long before the verdict with some conservative commentators who said riots should be blamed on liberals who distorted facts to make Zimmerman look guilty. “Media’s dishonest motives in Trayvon Martin case could end in riots,” read one headline on Glenn Beck’s website.
Speculation intensified when news broke that Florida police were preparing for possible unrest following the Zimmerman verdict. These same conservative pundits highlighted dozens of tweets from average citizens threatening violence if Zimmerman was acquitted. Reminders circulated about a handful of “this is for Trayvon” assaults by black people when the case first gained national notice. “I fully expect organized race rioting to begin in every major city to dwarf the Rodney King and the Martin Luther King riots,” wrote former police officer Paul Huebl. “If you live in a large city be prepared to evacuate or put up a fight to win. You will need firearms, fire suppression equipment along with lots of food and water.” Televangelist Pat Robertson blamed Trayvon saying on the 700 Club that Zimmerman was right to tail the “fully-formed young African-American male” the night he was killed because other criminals had been seen “wearing these hoods.” Another example of subtle racism.
Here are a few other folks who said there would be riots if Zimmerman were found not guilty:
Fox News’ commentator Sean Hannity, who had personal involvement in the case as the only reporter George Zimmerman would speak with, spoke at length about officials in Florida “trying to improve race relations, so that we will not have riots.” He pointed out, “the mayor here says that it should be peaceful” before concluding, “that’s what we all hope.”
Recently on CNN Monday morning, Newt Gingrich criticized anyone who saw racial implications in the Zimmerman case, but used an extremely racially charged term to describe the protestors. “I watch these protesters, none of whom read the transcript,” Gingrich said, “and all basically prepared to be a lynch mob. They wanted one verdict, and the verdict was guilty.” He then implied that protestors had “gone on to the streets and thrown things at police.”
As reported by Mother Jones, The Washington Times, a conservative publication, ran a recent online poll asking, “Will there be riots in Florida if George Zimmerman receives a not-guilty verdict by a jury of his peers?” Seventy-four percent of their readers answered yes.
Another conservative publication, Townhall, wrote, “Congratulations media, you’ve successfully turned a non-racial case into a full blown potential race riot.” An interesting comment since there had been absolutely no violence to inspire the article. Instead, the Townhall writer quoted from an article that described how Florida Mayors were “coordinat[ing] ‘a response plan in anticipation of the verdict.’”
Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly recently asked, “Do you think bad things are going to happen if Zimmerman is acquitted?” not ruling out the “possibility” that a not guilty verdict could result in damage done to “the fabric of the nation.” O’Reilly was quick to note that, if Zimmerman is found guilty of second degree murder or a lesser charge, the threat of violence would dissipate entirely.
“If George Zimmerman is acquitted, there will be racial animus,” O’Reilly predicted on his program. “The only thing the American press will embrace is the specter of oppression,” he continued, implying the media’s disinterest in black-on-black crime in favor of rarer instances of white-on-black or black-on-white crime. “That is, if a white American kills a black American, or any other minority, then the story gets covered. That’s wrong, and it causes racial division,” O’Reilly said.
Following the verdict, thousands of frustrated Americans, of all races, broke out into peaceful protests around the country, with a particularly large protest in New York City. There were only a few reports of violence in California. The vast majority of demonstrations were simply peaceful shows of solidarity by concerned citizens who used the phrase, “No justice, no peace” in a much more theoretical sense than their critics implied. As a result of Zimmerman’s acquittal, African American young men and boys have been placed in a position where they can be profiled, followed and killed just because of the color of their skin.
Will there ever be a time when African American men can stop being the scary ones and just be scared? Probably not as long as African American males continue to be stereotyped by motivated white racists. The last two presidential elections confirmed the fact that these are the same racists who will never accept a black or brown brother or sister in the White House and although we cannot call every disagreement an issue of racism, there is no question that blatant racism still exists.