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Violence, riots don’t materialize after George Zimmerman’s verdict, but some in media cry foul

- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2013

Analysts, law enforcement officials and, most of all, the media warned of potential riots and violence in the streets after Saturday night's acquittal of George Zimmerman.

Instead, in the hours after the Hispanic former neighborhood watch volunteer was cleared of murder charges in connection with the February 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, protests across the country mostly were peaceful.

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.

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.

"I think we should, right now, be celebrating the fact that we've seen a generation of young people respond by using our system; raising their voices, yes, but not using their fists," he said.

President Obama released a rare statement Sunday on a local crime story that doesn't yet officially involve the federal government. The president called for continued calm and reflection, even as tensions continued to run high and calls grew louder for the federal government to step in and charge Mr. Zimmerman with hate crimes.

"I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son," Mr. Obama said. "And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities."

Rallies were held in Los Angeles, Boston, Detroit and elsewhere across the country. Many people attending vigils in numerous cities, wore "hoodies," the garb Trayvon was wearing when he was killed.

There were few reports of violence, though protesters in Oakland, Calif., reportedly started small fires in the streets and burned U.S. flags. Local media reported that protesters also spray-painted anti-police graffiti and vandalized a squad car. There were no reports of injuries or deaths anywhere, only of property damage and a handful of arrests.

The Zimmerman case also hit the nation's pulpits, especially in black churches.

In Manhattan's Middle Collegiate Church, the Rev. Jacqueline Lewis wore a pink hoodie and encouraged her congregants to do the same in Trayvon's memory, according to The Associated Press.

She also urged church members to protest peacefully and "raise our voices against the root causes of this kind of tragedy" while telling them that the civil rights leaders of the 1960s "would have wanted us to conduct ourselves on the highest plane of dignity."

In Washington's historically black U Street neighborhood, demonstrators early Sunday chanted, "No justice, no peace," a line heard at several other demonstrations. One U Street protester said America needs to "stop criminalizing black men." In the Florida state capital of Tallahassee, reporters said, about 200 people demonstrated with signs asking, "Who's Next?"

Although there was little violence, there was a great deal of outrage over Mr. Zimmerman's acquittal, including among members of the news media.

Shortly after the verdict was handed down, Associated Press reporter Cristina Silva tweeted, "So we can all kill teenagers now? Just checking." She quickly deleted the tweet and appears to have removed her Twitter account.

Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher, a CNN contributor, also issued a controversial tweet.

"Zimmerman was innocent the moment they sat an all-white jury," he said, referring inaccurately to the six women who decided the defendant's fate, only five of whom were white, according to courtroom observers.

The media also came under fire from the Zimmerman team at the weekend, accusing the reporting on the case of fanning racial flames and smearing Mr. Zimmerman to the point where he cannot even live a normal life after his acquittal. For example, NBC edited a 911 audiotape to make it seem as if Mr. Zimmerman had racially profiled Trayvon, when he was responding to a question from the police dispatcher.

"He's going to be looking over his shoulder the rest of his life," brother Robert Zimmerman Jr. said during an interview on CNN.

Social media Saturday night and Sunday were filled with threats against Mr. Zimmerman, perhaps most notably NFL star Victor Cruz, who tweeted that "Zimmerman doesn't last a year before the hood catches up to him." Comedian Kevin Hart gave him less than that by saying, "I give Zimmerman a week" and that Mr. Zimmerman "better be good at playing hide and seek like Bin Laden."

"There still is a fringe element that wants revenge," said defense attorney Mark O'Mara, who noted since last summer that Mr. Zimmerman and his wife had been living like hermits because of fear for their lives. "They won't listen to a verdict of not guilty."

Such reactions are hardly surprising, given the racial backdrop and emotionally charged nature of the case. But analysts say now isn't the time for more anger.

"I believe that people, like me, who are saddened that there was not at least a guilty verdict on manslaughter will spend some time reflecting and then using their energy for positive change and reconciliation," said Montre Carodine, a law professor at the University of Alabama Law School who specializes in U.S. race relations. "I think that most people can agree that Trayvon Martin's death was a tragedy. And many people see this not as a time to riot but as a time to ... address broader societal issues that cause persistent racial disparities."

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