J’hiana Jlapion, 4, at a protest of George Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict in Atlanta on July 15, 2013. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Rallies for slain teenager Trayvon Martin continued across the country on Monday, the third consecutive night of such protests following the acquittal of George Zimmerman. While the media at times seemed to be hoping for race riots, these gatherings have been overwhelmingly peaceful, and supporters of the Martin family say they have planned future demonstrations.
Media pundits like Bill O’Reilly made breathless predictions that America would erupt in race riots following a not-guilty verdict, but that never happened—but sadly, the media probably would have devoted much more coverage to the vigils if they had turned bloody and violent. All the baseless speculation about black people running out to “cause trouble,” in the words of O’Reilly, does have a lasting effect in one sense: it conflates peaceful protest with crime.
Now, a group of black people gathering to do no more than share their grief concerning a murdered teenager are viewed as inherently suspicious—even if they’re totally peaceful—partly because O’Reilly and company have droned on endlessly about the coming race war (that never came).
Demonstrators flooded New York City’s Times Square, blocked a freeway and other streets in Los Angeles and set fire to a flag in Oakland during this week’s protests. Strangely, the Los Angeles Times writes that other protests around the country were “largely peaceful,” but gathering in Times Square isn’t a crime or particularly un-peaceful and burning the flag is a form of protest protected by the First Amendment. While blocking traffic might frustrate commuters, a large part of civil disobedience entails disrupting the normal flow of every day life. Otherwise, what’s the point of protesting if no one even notices the activists are there?
It’s important the media not conflate overwhelmingly peaceful protests with bloody riots so the real acts of violence, say the murder of a 17-year-old teenager, stand apart as the horrendous acts they are.