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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Race Riots That Many Predicted, Which Never Materialized.

The Riots That Didn't Happen

Racial progress and the Zimmerman verdict.

In the days--really, the months--leading up to George Zimmerman's acquittal, there was so much loose talk about the danger of race riots that the absence of riots has been widely noted. " 'Urban blacks may riot when X goes wrong for them' is a perennial story," notes Slate's David Weigel, who links to old stories in a British newspaper and a conspiracy website speculating about the possibility of riots if Barack Obama loses, respectively, the 2008 and 2012 elections.
Last week the Detroit Free Press noted that two Florida law-enforcement agencies--the Broward County sheriff and the Sanford police--put out a public-service ad in which cops, teenagers and James Jones of basketball's Miami Heat urged viewers: "Raise Your Voice, Not Your Hands."
"Some awoke Sunday morning expecting to hear of overnight chaos, which was heavily hyped by the news media as a possibility--perhaps a certainty--as the verdict drew nearer," the Washington Times reports:
But that chaos never materialized, and civil rights leaders say it's a sign of progress. NAACP President Benjamin Jealous on Sunday contrasted the reaction to Mr. Zimmerman's acquittal to the Los Angeles riots that erupted in 1992 after the trial of four Los Angeles police officers in the Rodney King beating.
"We saw no violence in this country that was related to this case. We are very proud of the discipline this generation of young people has shown. I'm sad to say that my own generation didn't show such discipline when we were outraged and heartbroken at the verdict in the Rodney King case," Mr. Jealous said during an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" program Sunday.
As Marc Polite noted last week at Time.com, the assumption that black people will respond to an adverse verdict with wanton violence is an ugly stereotype. To be sure, it is a stereotype with a basis in history. But as Polite and Jealous both point out, it has been 21 years--roughly a generation--since America's last major race riot.
It should be noted that whites also have a history, albeit a more distant one, of race riots. The Tulsa riot of 1921 is "believed to be the single worst incident of racial violence in American history," according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. It began when the sheriff refused to turn Dick Rowland, a black shoe-shine man, over to a lynch mob. Rowland had been falsely accused of raping a white woman.
 Today New York's Daily News does its best to inflame the situation, front-paging an editorial that likens Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin to half a dozen decades-old cases: "Six men--from Mississippi to Brooklyn--have been fatally attacked by racist mobs for crimes such as suspicion of sleeping with a white woman to none at all," the News shouts. "These heinous murders occurred at [sic] recently as 1989." That's 24 years ago.

This is 2013, not 1955 or 1992. Among them are Emmett Till, lynched in 1955; James Chaney, killed by the Ku Klux Klan (along with two white civil rights workers, as the editorial glancingly notes) in 1964; and Michael Griffith and Yusuf Hawkins, murdered in separate 1980s incidents in New York's outer boroughs. The front page lists these victims' names, followed by that of Trayvon Martin.
But Martin's case was different in kind. He was not killed by a mob, and in none of the other cases could the killers plead self-defense. The only common thread is race. The News is engaged in an outrageously racist bit of yellow journalism, imputing guilt to Zimmerman because the color of his skin is similar to that of men who committed horrific crimes decades ago.
The News editorial reflects the perverse nostalgia for pervasive racism--and for the moral clarity and righteousness that accompanied it--that is common among liberals today. So does a somewhat more staid editorial in the New York Times, which denounces America as "a country plagued by racism, which persists in ever more insidious forms despite the Supreme Court's sanguine assessment that 'things have changed dramatically,' as it said in last month's ruling striking down the heart of the Voting Rights Act."
The News unwittingly points up how much things have changed by highlighting the case of Michael Donald: "After a black man was freed by a jury in the killing of a white police officer in Alabama, klansmen retaliated by finding Donald, who was strung up and killed on March 20, 1981, in what is often referred to as the last recorded lynching."
The last recorded lynching occurred 32 years ago--11 years earlier than the last major race riots. The Supreme Court is right and the New York Times is wrong: Thing have changed dramatically. If both lynch mobs and race riots are things of the past, whites and blacks alike have made enormous progress in their attitudes toward race.

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