Of Race and Riots

The wingnuts were so certain African Americans would riot after the Zimmerman acquittal that, in the absence of actual riots, someone felt compelled to post a fake riot video that, naturally, went viral. However, the video was not of a post-verdict riot in Miami but of the 2011 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver, Canada.

Instead of riots, there have been some protest rallies attended by racially mixed crowds. These have either been mostly peaceful but for a few individuals acting out, or they were entirely peaceful but over-policed. It’s hard to know which.

And, of course, it’s the widespread certitude among white racists that blacks are inherently prone to crime and violence that gave George Zimmerman “permission” to stalk Trayvon Martin.

But if we assume, as racists do, that behavioral traits are connected to race, it’s really white rioters we should fear. Historically, in the U.S. whites have been at least as prone as blacks to engage in riots, if not more so.

First, as mentioned in an earlier post, precisely 150 years ago rampaging whites fomented the biggest riot in American history, in New York City. A close rival to that record must be the East St. Louis riot of 1917, in which a white mob set fire to black neighborhoods and shot residents as they tried to escape the flames.

Of the many white race riots in U.S. history, there were some doozies during Reconstruction, such as the New Orleans and Memphis riots of 1866 (36 and 48 dead, respectively, nearly all African American). One interesting detail of the New Orleans riots is that orders (from Washington? I don’t remember) had sent Gen. Phil Sheridan and many occupying troops out of town (Sheridan was military commander of the district) in advance of the riot. There is speculation this was done to get Sheridan out of the way, as he tended to actually keep the peace. This suggests the New Orleans violence was not so much a riot as a premeditated attack.

After the heavyweight boxing defeat of (the white) Jim Jeffries by (the black) Jack Johnson in 1910, riots broke out among whites around the country in which several African Americans were killed, but I don’t know how many. From PBS:

Newspaper editorials warned Johnson and the black community not to be too proud. Congress eventually passed an act banning the interstate transport of fight films for fear that the images of Johnson beating his white opponents would provoke further unrest.

And of course, during the Jim Crow years lynch mobs were a common phenomenon, and not just in the South.

I could go on and on. You don’t find large-scale African American riots until relatively recent times, such as Watts, 1965, and the “Rodney King” riots of 1992. But again, if we assume a predisposition to riot is an immutable trait connected to race (which I don’t, to be clear), then whites must be at least as likely to riot as blacks.

Update: See also Electric Ooga-Boogaloo. Drudge et al. are reporting riots that are not happening.

Update: On CNN, Newt called the peaceful verdict protesters a “lynch mob.”

16 thoughts on “Of Race and Riots

  1. maha,
    Don’t forget the Tulsa, OK, riot in 1921:

    That one might have been the mother of all American race riots, with 39 dead black people, officially – but other estimates go from 300 to 3,000.
    Mention of it was forbidden in the states histories, for decades.

    All of this BS about black people rioting from Conservatives, comes from the age-old white fear of “slave riots” in the Confederacy – where, it was said that once the subhuman black savages break their shackles, they’ll go after anyone white, and tear them to pieces.

    And today, they’re all depressed because there were no black people, bleeding on the streets, lying there either shot, or with their heads cracked open by police nightsticks.
    THAT, was the Conservative dream, the last two days.
    Ok, maybe the actual dream might have been them doing the shooting, and/or cracking open the skulls.
    Conservative always hope for the worst, to reinforce their prejudices.

    • gulag — yeah, really, I could have spent a couple of days listing all the white-led race riots and the number of people who died.

  2. It seems oddly appropriate that they posted a fake riot video.

    All along, this hasn’t been about REAL black people, it’s been about the stereotypes of black people that exist in the minds of so many non-blacks in the US. Zimmerman went out to confront the avatar of some image of a black youth that he’s been nursing in his head for years, and Trayvon happened to be available for him to project that on.

    That’s why so many of Zimmerman’s supporters sound so strange – they aren’t talking about the actual factual shooting, they are talking about this psycho-drama in which Zimmerman was protecting his neighborhood from “black punks”, a psycho-drama they themselves share. The racism of these people exists in their willingness to believe in the stereotypical angry black man, a concept with its roots going all the way back to the slave days, as Gulag notes.

    It doesn’t matter that in objective reality no black riots took place. In their minds, the riots were inevitable, just like Trayvon was an angry punk kid who was moments away from smashing Zimmerman’s skull to pieces on the sidewalk.

    They were so much wrapped up in the process of seeing what they wanted, not what was real, that they didn’t even notice that those hockey rioters were white!

    If our country is going to survive, we need to get better at de-legitimizing people who are actively living in their own delusional states all the time.

  3. OT, but I thought this was funny regarding Sheridan.

    Abraham Lincoln described his appearance in a famous anecdote: “A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping.”

  4. the 2011 Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver, Canada

    Yeah, that’d be the first mob image I’d reach for, if I wanted to slander African Americans.

    So. Much. Stupid.

  5. CNN rightly notes in its headline “Verdict doesn’t end debate.” This story will be with us for a while and is not going to fade away just because a jury of twelve good men and true has spoken.

    When Kate Middleton has her baby, on the other hand…

  6. Some of those in the New Orleans riots were Italians, targeted because their skin was a little too dark. Wonder if anyone will hire Zimmerman to do security for them, or hire him at all.

    • Some of those in the New Orleans riots were Italians, targeted because their skin was a little too dark.

      In 1866? I don’t think so. The “rioters” were targeting a particular political gathering, and anyone involved was in danger, but I don’t think they were randomly killing dark people that time.

  7. a jury of twelve good men and true

    Six good women and true, I’m sure you meant to say.

  8. Real reason they want riots is to reclaim the real estate. Here in NYC Harlem, Bushwick and Crown Heights are rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods and if the people who currently live in the rent-stabilized apartments there would only burn themselves out what a wonderful real estate opportunity it would be.

  9. Wonder if anyone will hire Zimmerman to do security for them, or hire him at all.

    You mean the soon to be George Zimmerman, Esq.? He’s finally found his calling. He’s going to the defend others against the same government abuses that heaped upon him. Clarence Darrow move over!

  10. I was actually reading about Sheridan’s time in Texas just recently. Napoleon III had taken advantage of the Civil War to send troops into Mexico and set up a puppet regime under Emperor Maximilian. Once the war was over, Grant and Sheridan were eager to help Benito Juarez drive out the invaders, but Seward and Johnson were less enthusiastic. So Grant did what he could, which was to send Sheridan down to the border to keep an eye on things, as well as sending arms and supplies to Juarez. And the presence of an American army did get Napoleon’s attention, and was one of the factors that led to his decisions to pull out of Mexico.

    • Stephen — Yeah, that’s a fascinating bit of history that not many people know about. General Grant was fond of Mexico (he’d been there in the Mexican War) and really wanted to help Juarez, so very shortly after the surrender at Appomattox he sent Sheridan, ostensibly to put down Confederate resistance in Texas, with a spoken suggestion that if a lot of war surplus munitions just happened to end up with the Juaristas, nobody would say anything about it. Sheridan took the hint and “lost” vast quantities of stuff that, somehow, got to Juarez. Sheridan also put on a big show of preparing to cross the Rio Grande with his troops, although I don’t think he did at any time.

  11. In 1835 there was a race riot in DC. An inebriated slave was thought to have threatened his owner with an axe, though she thought him merely to have been drunk at the time. Whites attacked free blacks for several days.

    District Attorney Francis Scott Key of “Star Spangled Banner” fame sought and obtained the death penalty for the slave. The “victim” of his “attack” successfully petitioned President Jackson for a pardon for the slave. Key also prosecuted a white citizen of the District for the crime of being in possession of a trunk full of anti-slavery literature. Key told the jury that this literature could inflame the blacks and that they should convict the defendant of sedition. The defendant was acquitted.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55082-2005Feb1.html has a summary of what happened.

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