Apparently it’s impossible to prevent white men from beating and killing unarmed black men. It also seems impossible to convict them of their crimes. It’s not just Trayvon Martin. There was Rodney King in LA in 1991, Tyrone Lewis in St. Petersburg in 1996 and Timothy Thomas in Cincinnati in 2001.
In all of those cases, an unarmed black man was beaten or killed and his assailant acquitted of wrongdoing. The difference, though, was the people went to the streets for justice and, to some extent, got it.
In 1991, Rodney King was beaten down to the ground by four white officers of the LAPD. Despite being captured on video, all four were acquitted. In the six days of riots that followed, huge portions of the city of LA were looted and destroyed. 53 people died and over 2000 injured. The result was the men were retried, and two convicted, and the LAPD implemented a number of changes.
It’s always been this way. In all, there were 23 significant race riots in the ’60s. The popular myth is that civil rights successes are a testament to non-violent activism. The truth is, to quote a black activist of the time, “They only talk to Dr. King because they don’t want to talk to me.” The non-violent marches may have gotten the white power structure to listen, but only because the not-so-implicit threat of violence hung in the background like a fart in a Volkswagen. The Watts riots of 1965 even had their own slogan, “Burn! Baby! Burn!” borrowed from deejay Magnificent Montague.
Since the ’60s there have been 19 more race riots. Many are connected to events like the trials of those who beat and/or killed King, Lewis and Thomas.
However, the response to the Travon Martin case has been strangely muted. Protests have been small and for the most part quiet. Where’s the outrage? Where are the angry young men and women? Why isn’t Sanford, Florida a smoldering ruin? You have to believe that in a different era there would have been a very different reaction:
- If H. Rap Brown were out of prison, the detective who testified for the prosecution and appeared to deliberately tank his testimony would be growing a moustache, changing his name and moving to Montana about now.
- If the Weather Underground was still around, members of the Sanford Police department would be diving under desks and holding their ears every time the UPS man slid a package under the door.
- If Stokely Carmichael was alive, he’d be headed to Florida right now and by next week Sanford would a burned out wasteland visible from space.
But none of that is happening. Does this represent a new maturity on the part of minorities? A pragmatic realization that we’ve finally reached a point where going to the streets would just give the redneck nation a chance to use all those automatic weapons they’ve been stockpiling? Or is it simply laziness on the part of the should-be angry young, a generation that has for the most part been sheltered from the worst type of discrimination?
I don’t know. But it does make me wonder. Did the violent activists of the ’60s know something we don’t?