The Riots That Weren’t

Jelani Cobb responds to dashed expectations that riots would follow the Zimmerman verdict:

The prediction of violence was not simply wrong. It was wrong for all the wrong reasons, in an echo of the way responsibility in the case was shifted onto Martin’s shoulders. There’s a sly inversion at work in the references to lynch mobs and riots, one that takes Zimmerman’s acquittal and expands it to all of American history. This country has a long history of lynchings, but not one in which non-black defendants needed to fear the fury of black mobs. Amplifying the irony is the fact that the verdict was announced on July 13, 2013—the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the Civil War draft riots in New York City, in which white mobs pursued and killed blacks on the streets and burned a black orphanage to the ground.

Weigel sounds off:

Did police scramble in the wake of the verdict to prevent anything from going sour in the cities? Yes. It just seems noteworthy that very little went sour. “Urban blacks may riot when X goes wrong for them” is a perennial story, one that got written in the run-ups to elections in 2008 (“Police fear riots if Barack Obama loses US election”) and 2012 (“New threats to riot if Obama loses the election”). An act of civil disobedience that blocks traffic—on a Sunday, not even rush hour!—isn’t an act of fury that tears a country apart. Honestly, don’t the panic-mongers remember what it felt like when peaceful Tea Partiers were accused of incipient anti-government violence?

Isaac Chotiner feels that Cobb “should recognize the lack of violence for what it is: a real sign of progress”:

A foreign example would be the absence of large-scale rioting after the attacks on Bombay in 2008, where there was the (not unfounded) fear that the country’s Muslim minority would face the wrath of its Hindu majority. Something similar had, after all, happened several times in the previous 15 years. … Anyway, India’s calm was a sign of progress, however tenuous (the country may elect an essentially fascist Hindu extremist as its next prime minister).

In the Zimmerman trial, too, the concern about violence was not just of the Gingrich variety. It was also a fear among people who actually care about racism that the country hasn’t come as far as it has. On a week when it is abundantly clear that America has a long, long, long way to go towards equality, this bit of non-news is the one reason for optimism.