TW: George Zimmerman’s acquittal, racism, racist criminalization, police brutality
By now you’ve hopefully realized that a defining feature of the still on-going Zimmerman case (there’s always civil suits!) was how racist ideas about Black people create an image of them that’s inevitably, invariably criminal. This phenomenon has a terribly academic name, racist criminalization, that unfortunately rolls off the tongue about as easily as a brick does. In spite of its regrettable inaccessibility, it’s a really useful term for describing the fears that are now rippling out of this specific case and into the depiction of Black people’s reactions across the US to it.
As Jenée Desmond-Harris, herself Black, put it – many White people seem almost disappointed in the lack of a riot, since that would have confirmed every idea about Black people as violent, criminal, and unstable (never mind the context of yet another man getting away with murdering one of them). A lot of attention has been placed on a few sporadic instances of vandalism in Oakland, with minimal to no attention paid to more dangerous conditions which were typically created by police in response to protestors.
Below is one video account of a confrontation between protesters on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles and LAPD. Obviously, the mostly young and of color protesters weren’t the most polite as at :57 they begin to loudly greet the police with the chant “I believe that we will win” (that is, that Zimmerman will eventually be convicted). By 1:14 however, they’ve begun moving away from the police, only for a loud noise to interrupt the few remaining chants. At 1:30 it’s revealed that the noise was a police officer driving through the crowd on a police-issued motorcycle which elicited shouts of “be careful with that”. A confrontation ensues, resulting in the protesters shouting various slogans (including the Vietnam War era favorite, “how many kids have you killed today?” and the more modern “stop killer cops”) at the police.
By 3:51, shouts for people to move on from the confrontation had caused almost everyone in the crowd to look away from the police and move away from the area where they had been arguing. As they’re leaving, however, one officer, who appears to be the same one that initially drew the crowd with his reckless behavior, raced through the group and grabbed one particularly young, Black teenager. He pulls the teen away from the others who begin shouting at him to stop, and one of whom (at 4:04) pulls him out of the officer’s grip. You can hear the protesters at this point calling for someone (it’s unclear if they mean their fellow protesters or the police) to “back up”. The police move forward and begin firing “warning” shots at 4:14. The tape ends shortly after, once the protesters have fled out of range of the police amid calls to “keep marching”.
To be clear: there were multiple points where the crowd began moving away from the police – once before the incident with the motorcycle, after they decided that that incident wasn’t worth arguing over, and during the calls for people to “back up” after a police officer grabbed a young Black person. That indicates pretty strongly that the protesters, while clearly wanting to criticize the behavior of the police then and generally, also hoped to avoid a physical conflict. The police officers, on the other hand, indicated otherwise through their unprofessional endangerment of the protesters (first by using a motorcycle in the crowd, then by grabbing one protester with a nightstick in the other hand, and finally by using warning shots against a retreating group of protesters).
It’s important to hold on to those facts in the next coming days, if what coverage has happened so far is an indication. The narrative of Black people as violent criminals is an extremely established one.