The predictions were dire: Black people would burn and loot America’s cities if George Zimmerman was found not guilty. White people everywhere would be attacked in revenge for the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Judging from water-cooler conversations and viral emails, many people took these warnings seriously — yet they proved to be largely wrong.
Community leaders and scholars say the overwhelmingly peaceful response to the Zimmerman verdict reflects increased opportunities for African-Americans, the powerful image of a black president voicing frustration with the verdict, and the modern ability to create change through activism and online discussions rather than a brick.
The talk of violence originated long before the verdict with some commentators, who said riots should be blamed on liberals who distorted facts to make Zimmerman look guilty.
Speculation intensified when news broke that Florida police were preparing for possible unrest. Pundits highlighted dozens of online posts from average citizens threatening violence if Zimmerman was acquitted.
“I fully expect organized race rioting to begin in every major city to dwarf the Rodney King and the Martin Luther King riots,” wrote former police officer Paul Huebl. “If you live in a large city be prepared to evacuate or put up a fight to win. You will need firearms, fire suppression equipment along with lots of food and water.”
In the week after the verdict, amid peaceful protests involving tens of thousands of people across the country, there was some violence.
In Oakland, protesters broke windows, vandalized a police car and started street fires. In Los Angeles, people splintered off two peaceful protests to smash windows, set fires, attack pedestrians, and assault police with rocks and bottles. About 50 teenagers took the subway to Hollywood to rob pedestrians; 12 were arrested.
Individual attacks were reported in Mississippi, Milwaukee and Baltimore, where black people were accused of assaulting two white people and a Hispanic in Martin’s name.
Overall, the response to the Zimmerman verdict was nothing like the massive 1992 Los Angeles uprising that killed 53 people, injured more than 2,000 and caused $1 billion in damage after police officers were acquitted in the Rodney King beating. And there was no comparison with the 1960s riots that struck cities across the country in response to oppression of African-Americans and following the assassination of Martin Luther King.