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July 15, 2013 5:44 PM Inventing Race Riots

By Ed Kilgore

A few days ago (after the trial judge made a manslaughter conviction possible), if you had told me that George Zimmerman was going to walk away from his trial a free man, and even secure the immediate right to pack heat once again, I’d have figured there would be major racial disturbances around the country. Considering what happened in 1992 when the police officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted on charges of assault and excessive use of force, serious violence seemed a distinct possibility.

Instead—there have been mostly peaceful protests and vigils with scatterings of violence, and some of those likely attributable to police over-reaction.

Perhaps there are some lefty firebrands unhappy with the absence of violence; I haven’t seen it, but it could be out there somewhere. What is most definitely present is a half-gleeful, half-paranoid anticipation race riots by Zimmerman’s conservative fans. Dave Weigel absolutely nails Drudge in particular on this front. After quoting a long list of hysterical front-page headlines and links at Drudge indicating a nation torn by violence, Weigel observes:

If you only got your news from that site and its links, you’d think that race riots were breaking out with regularity, and the media was ignoring them because the perps were black. (As McKay Coppins reported at the time, the “why aren’t you covering this” coverage surged in the wake of Trayvon Martin stories.)

Did police scramble in the wake of the verdict to prevent anything from going sour in the cities? Yes. It just seems noteworthy that very little went sour. “Urban blacks may riot when X goes wrong for them” is a perennial story, one that got written in the run-ups to elections in 2008 (“Police fear riots if Barack Obama loses US election”) and 2012 (“New threats to riot if Obama loses the election”). An act of civil disobedience that blocks traffic—on a Sunday, not even rush hour!—isn’t an act of fury that tears a country apart. Honestly, don’t the panic-mongers remember what it felt like when peaceful Tea Partiers were accused of incipient anti-government violence?

Probably not. A corollary to the conviction on the Right that only anti-racists are actually racists is that Tea Party protests represent brave and patriotic citizens exercising their right to free speech and assembly, while minority protests threaten a potential descent into barbarism. And if it doesn’t actually happen, people like Drudge are hardly above just making it up.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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