In Kansas City and nationwide, law enforcement authorities and city officials voiced a need for calm ahead of the verdict in the slaying of Trayvon Martin.
They feared that an acquittal of 29-year-old George Zimmerman in the Feb. 26, 2012, gunshot killing of unarmed 17-year-old Martin would result in unrest in cities similar to what occurred in April 1992 after Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in the March 3, 1991, beating of Rodney King. But nothing like that happened.
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Part of it could be attributed to social media and the Internet. Neither existed in 1992, giving people an outlet to express their thoughts, frustrations, fears and concerns, knowing they are being heard.
It has been in the social media that Trayvon Martin was compared with 14-year-old Emmett Till. Each killing occurred in the South — Till in Mississippi on Aug. 28, 1955, while visiting from Chicago; Martin in Sanford, Fla.
Each slaying had ties to a store. Martin had gone to a store to get Skittles and a soft drink; Till was pulled from relatives’ home during the night beaten and killed allegedly for whistling at a white woman at a small grocery store. His body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River weighed down with a 70-pound cotton gin fan.
The black community rallied around each victim. Protests followed Martin’s slaying because authorities initially refused to file charges against Zimmerman because of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, enabling a gunman to use deadly force if he feared for his life.
Till’s case captured the black community’s attention because his mother insisted on a public funeral service and that his casket be open so people could see the brutality inflicted on her son. Tens of thousands of people viewed the body, and black newspapers and magazines ran photos of Till in the coffin.
Each case symbolizes a disparate treatment of African Americans in this country. In Till’s case, racism and the laws were dead set against equality for black people. Both were intent on keeping blacks in their place. The civil rights movement helped to change some of that but not all of it.
Martin’s death is an example of how the change isn’t complete. Martin’s death serves as yet another reason black parents coast to coast must continue to have never-ending discussion with their children over how to behave if stopped or accosted by authorities, or in Zimmerman’s case now, someone white acting as if he were the law. Blacks too often are seen as suspects instead of citizens.
What’s clear is the Martin case is far from over.
The NAACP and other civil rights groups are right to press the U.S. Justice Department to file federal criminal charges against Zimmerman. In addition, the family could file a civil wrongful death lawsuit against Zimmerman.
Gun advocates may be cheering the “stand your ground” laws in many states now. But the laws could prove to be very costly to anyone who uses them.