Americans didn’t need to hear Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. promise to take a “hard look” at self-defense laws, since self-defense is a basic human right.
The verdict in the murder trial of George Zimmerman didn’t exactly split the nation in two. The division arose when young Trayvon Martin was mortally wounded.
The verdict, though, could be a unifier next month, when religious and civil and human rights groups and individuals narrow the generational divide for the 50th anniversary of the seminal March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the forum where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
The reactions to the not-guilty verdict generally fall into one of two camps — race-haters or race-baiters — neither of which reflects how far we’ve come, said Roy Innis, chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of the chief organizers of the 1963 march.
“We were disappointed with the verdict, as a lot of people were,” Mr. Innis said Wednesday. “We felt [Mr. Zimmerman] should have been convicted of something. Our position from day one was that the minute he left his vehicle was his fault. He disobeyed instructions.
Mr. Innis fully understands the racial division that sprung from the Zimmerman case, and he appreciates the closing of the generational gap, which was broad and deep during the height of the civil rights movement.
“I think the Zimmerman case was another sturdy bridge,” said Mr. Innis, 79, who took over leadership of CORE in 1968 from Floyd McKissick.
“Rallies are important but this younger generation and the case right now and others around the globe have added new tools,” he said. “Social media has added a new dynamic. Young people use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Look at the Arab Spring. Social media is an instant unifying factor.”
Indeed, imagine them as latter-day Freedom Riders, the bands of activists who first boarded buses in Washington, D.C., to ride throughout to force desegregation.
The Internet is their most potent medium.
While they are helping to build a bridge across the generational divide, only time will tell whether the enduring rift, the uniquely American black-white/white-black rift that’s tested at every sensationalized turn of events, will dissipate.
Are Americans too thin-skinned?
“We’re thin-skinned on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “White folks are called ‘racist’ and they panic.”
He used Paula Deen and some rap music as analogies.
“She lost endorsements for using the N-word, but we buy music from rappers who use it,” he said. “If we’re going to play in the big leagues, we have to be able to take criticism and dish real critique.”
Mr. Innis is right. We need to stand with feet firmly planted 50 years after MLK relayed his dream.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at email@example.com.