American Culture

Zimmerman verdict: What ever happened to “Burn! Baby! Burn!”?

CATEGORY: ZimmermanCaseApparently 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?

8 replies »

  1. I think you are a lava cake lately Otherwise. Have you ever had lava cake? A single serving delicious dark chocolate cake on the outside and when you poke a spoon or fork into it angry molten fudgy chocolate comes roiling out. Quite tasty but it’s easy to get burned if one isn’t careful.

    An odd comparison perhaps but this post and the one immediately prior both drip of intense anger on the inside while presenting as cool hip cutting edge comedy on the outside. Obviously this Zimmerman-Martin thing has shredded some part of your psyche.

    I’m sorry for your pain, it’s palpably visceral and unarguable. The only comfort that I can offer in assuagement is the simple fact that through entropy all heat cools and your insides will eventually reach thermal equilibrium with your outside.

    Then, when the throbbing red clears from your vision you may see how far we’ve really come in one or two generations. Not that we don’t have miles yet to go but calling for Berserkers to swarm the streets seems counterproductive to the task we have to finish,

  2. A latin-american kills a black-american and the cry goes out to kill, rape, pillage, and loot caucasian-americans. Well fine then, take heart Otherwise you’re not alone.

    I still think it’s a crummy fucking way to solve a hate problem, by applying more hate, but I do have to agree with you that the hate does exist. My solution is a mass orgy and in one generation we all turn a delightful caramel brown and a race is just Le Mans, Indy or Daytona.

    • This is a hard one. Theoretically I’m in favor, but in practice I am so soft hearted I capture wasps and put them outside.

      The real problem with my argument is the wrong people get killed. A bunch of nutcases in Florida write bad laws and encourage irresponsible, a mentally-fragile wannabe with a history of violence takes them up on it and kills Trayvon Marting and gets acquited, and some poor Korean grocer in LA trying to make a living gets his store bombed out. It is at best a hugely inefficient butterfly effect. My argument would be much stronger if the black people in Oakland got on a plane, flew across the country, and burned the Sanford police station down. It’s hard to believe that peckerwoods in Florida will be scared by protests in that bastion of sin and miscengeneation, CA.

      Anyway, I’m still pondering lava cake? Lava cake!!!??? Come on, Frank, couldn’t you have gone with “smouldering volcano?” How about showing me some respect, brother. 🙂

  3. Years ago, a brilliant psychiatrist friend of mine once went into a mini-lecture on the subject that anger is never a primary emotion but, rather, always a secondary emotion. There was always something underlying it, supporting it.

    The 60s was a different context. But I would like to think that emotions related to those the gave rise to the riots in the 60s is similar to those evoked by the Zimmerman case and that, perhaps, they will give rise to secondary emotions that lead to a different kind of activism today that will be just as effective as the riots were in the 60s. Probably naive on my part but …

    Wouldn’t it be nice if it led to an activism that energized like minded people to elect legislatures that would parry the Tea Party and force legislatures to reexamine the stand your ground laws and self defense laws to ensure they provided equal protection to all and not just white people?

    Or the activate like minded people to elect local and state politicians who would, in fact, validate the Robert’s court ruling on the voters rights act? (“equal sovereignty” notwithstanding)

    One potential good that could some from this travesty is that it may shed light on the fact that there still is racism in a way many who have been denying that fact can at lease see it. I fear riots in the streets would only allow the racists to hijack the argument so that the real issues are lost and that light would be extinguished.

    But then, I’m not seeing that energy either … like I said naive. Nonetheless, I would hate to see riots smash the memory of Trayvon Martin and the travesty of justice that was the Zimmerman trial. There has to be a way to make some good come it.

  4. I was pretty much through with this subject but then things happened.

    I was listening to NPR and there was a discussion among three, I think, African-Americans of some sort of religious affiliation. One of them was asked a question that must have had to do with a national dialogue — I tuned in as he was answering but did not hear the actual question. He answer was that he would rather see a series smaller local dialogues, neighbors, co-workers, fellow church members and preferable mixed-race conversations about the Traybon Martin, George Zimmerman case.

    Then Obama gave his comments and basically pushed the conversation back to the state and local levels.

    A couple days ago there was what I would categorize as a reasonable panel discussion on CNN about the case and bringing related cases into the conversation.

    I had a conversation with an African-American co-worker about the case. She happens to be a lawyer and focused on how hard it is to give jury directions and told of her case of being profiled and stereo-typed when she was in college and frisked by police with guns drawn even though she was returning from the Opera in a long dress and heels. Are there any African-Americans who have not had this experience? (For the record, I have been stopped by police numerous times but never without a reasonable reason. My experience with police is very different. Almost always positive even when breaking the law.)

    Anyway, I just wanted to note that there are numerous conversations going in what I consider a positive direction. I agree with Otherwise in another post that the justice system is the most important. I just hope these positive conversations, built on the shoulders of the Zimmerman trial, can generate energy to get more people in the conversation and to the polls to ensure that the justice system continues to improve.

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