Playing Into Racist Stereotypes, Pundits Baselessly Predict Riots In Wake Of Zimmerman Verdict

(Credit: AP)

Both television and online news sites have been rife with speculation that the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder case would lead to mass rioting. Not only have the racist twitter trolls predicted mass uprisings by black people furious with the jury’s not guilty decision, but mainstream outlets have given air time to the baseless suspicion that riots would ensue the verdict.

Such accusations are grounded in a stereotyped vision of black people — one that assumes violence and a lack of civility. Indeed, it’s the very same ideology that many feel made George Zimmerman get out of his car and track down the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on that fateful night in February of 2012. As MSNBC’s Touré described it:

There’s this expectation of violence from us which goes back to slavery, that we must keep them under control in any way possible. They are three-fifths of a human, they are animals, they might explode in violence at any moment…Violence in terms of riots have been used against the black community far more often throughout history than we have used it. So this idea that we’re just going to explode if we don’t get this verdict—that many of us don’t expect to go our way—is absurd and ahistorical and insulting.

Here’s a look at just a few people who jumped to the incorrect conclusion that people would riot if George Zimmerman were found not guilty:

Sean Hannity: Fox News’ Sean Hannity — who had some personal involvement in the case as the only reporter George Zimmerman would speak with — spoke at length about officials in Florida “trying to improve race relations, so that we will not have riots.” He pointed out, “the mayor here says that it should be peaceful” before concluding, “that’s what we all hope.” Hannity also asked Mark Fuhrman, detective in the OJ Simpson murder case, “Mark, how on guard must [law enforcement] be?” Fuhrman added his own bias: “I think it’s pathetic that a court of law cannot be in a vacuum of the legal system without the influence of the public threatening to do great bodily harm to people and property. It’s really a prophetic statement nor our country.”

Newt Gingrich: On CNN Monday morning, Gingrich lambasted anyone who saw racial implications in the Zimmerman case, but used an extremely racially charged term to describe the protestors. “I watch these protesters, none of whom read the transcript,” Gingrich said, “and all basically prepared to be a lynch mob. They wanted one verdict, and the verdict was guilty.” He then implied that protestors had “gone on to the streets and thrown things at police. ”

The Washington Times: As Mother Jones reports, the conservative publication The Washington Times ran a poll online last week asking, “Will there be riots in Florida if George Zimmerman receives a not-guilty verdict by a jury of his peers?” Seventy-four percent of their readers answered yes.

FOX’s Bill O’Reilly: In a live television discussion last Monday, host Bill O’Reilly accused Fox Contributor Juan Williams of “fueling the potential for violence,” which he said was a possibility if Zimmerman were acquitted, by discussing the case:

O’REILLY: possibility for damage to be done to the fabric of the nation. if this verdict comes in as an acquittal. If it comes in as guilty, I don’t think there is going to be any violence. I think think there will be people that will be angry. […]

WILLIAMS: It just seems to me there is something crazy here when this black kid unarmed not hurting anybody gets shot and killed.

O’REILLY: You are almost fueling the potential violence here by saying that.

WILLIAMS: I’m not.

O’REILLY: You are. Let the facts be presented and the jurors

O’Reilly concluded the discussion by saying, the media should “try to tamp [any violence] down starting right now.”

Townhall: Another conservative publication, Townhall, opened their story about the potential for violence this way: “Congratulations media, you’ve successfully turned a non-racial case into a full blown potential race riot.” Of course, there had been absolutely no violence to inspire the article. Instead, the Townhall writer quoted from an article that described how Florida Mayors were “coordinat[ing] ‘a response plan in anticipation of the verdict.’”

Following the verdict, thousands of frustrated Americans, of all races, broke out into peaceful protests around the country, with a particularly huge protest in New York City. There were only a few smattered reports of violence in California. The huge majority of demonstrations were simply peaceful shows of solidarity by concerned citizens who used the phrase, “No justice, no peace” in a much more theoretical sense than their critics implied.