Trayvon Martin: The Fire Next Time

By A. Scott Walton Executive Editor | 7/19/2013, 8:57 a.m.
Did anyone else notice how quiet the streets of downtown Atlanta were last Saturday night?
George Zimmerman was accused of profiling, pursuing and fatally shooting Trayvon Martin (above), an unarmed black teen, in February 2012. Zimmerman, a former volunteer crime watchman in Sanford, Fla., has pleaded not guilty, saying he shot in self-defense when Martin attacked him. Jury for the case found him not guilty.

Did anyone else notice how quiet the streets of downtown Atlanta were last Saturday night?

Was anyone else expecting to hear first responder sirens blaring as they raced to secure property, extinguish fires, assist the injured and restore peace in the wake of a “not guilty” verdict that essentially declared there was no justification for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, but no blame to be placed either?

Late into the night and into the wee morning hours, stale summer breezes seeped through the screens of my Old Fourth Ward windows. But there were no audible cries of outrage as mobs marched through the streets, and not the wail of a solitary police cruiser on its way to quell a spontaneous uprising in response to the verdict.

It was as if this slice of the world – the birthplace of civil rights activism – got the word that George Zimmerman would have to pay no penal price for gunning down an innocent, unarmed teen and drifted back off to sleep.

Are we that numb to travesties of justice? Has the mass media desensitized us to the point where we don’t immediately stand up, band together and express outrage until a wrong is righted?

Gratefully, there was no rash reaction akin to the mayhem that ensued after a squad of L.A. policemen were acquitted in the near fatal beating of the late Rodney King. There would have been no point in setting neighborhoods around downtown that are slowly being “regentrified” ablaze. And any instant gratification to be gained from mass looting of the few vulnerable stores that thrive in predominantly Black sectors of town would only have further stalled the delivery of necessary goods to the community.

Besides, widespread images of Blacks demonstrating their displeasure aggressively only offers incentive to the Zimmermans of the world to stand their ground and lash out against threats: real or imagined.

In the days following Zimmerman’s acquittal, Atlantans have indeed organized vigils and town hall meetings to calmly ponder the Sanford, Fla. jury’s decision and its aftermath. Our so-called “leaders” have gathered on the steps of the nation’s capitol to demand Justice Department review of “stand your ground” statutes in effect all over the U.S.

These responses, while sincere, are tepid compared to the Tea Party’s reaction to President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act. This level of reaction, while reasonable, won’t bring Trayvon Martin back to his tortured parents and probably won’t spare parents like his from suffering the same sort of unfathomable and unnecessary grief in the future.

No doubt there are some major broadcast news executives out there who were salivating over the prospect of reaping a ratings bonanza if Blacks had risen up in arms over a verdict that stunned them, even if it didn’t entirely surprise. And it’s a certainty that there are pockets within the community aching for an excuse to rage against the criminal justice machine that set George Zimmerman free.

In the meantime, though, all’s quiet in the Old Fourth Ward. Hopefully, we’ll collectively work to contain the tinder of racial misunderstanding and the sparks of distrust that could ignite the fire next time.