The mood in Phoenix on Monday was angry—but it was also peaceful. Dozens of people marched through the Arizona city’s downtown to protest George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. They chanted “Justice for Trayvon” and held signs that read: “If there will be no justice, let’s turn this mess into a message.” The march included a moment of silence, along with a prayer urging federal charges against Zimmerman.
The peaceful scene wasn’t the image of deadly race riots that many predicted would occur if Zimmerman walked free. Many political pundits and television hosts anticipated mass rioting and violence, a forecast that stands in stark contrast to the homegrown marches and vigils that have been organized in honor of the teen.
Rush Limbaugh warned that the media was “agitating for riots” in the event of an acquittal. Alex Jones’ conspiracist website Info Wars hyped an ex-Chicago police officer’s vision of “organized race rioting to begin in every major city…. If you live in a large city be prepared to evacuate or put up a fight to win.” Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan declared that acquittal “could ignite a reaction similar to that, 20 years ago, when the Simi Valley jury acquitted the LAPD cops in the Rodney King beating case.”
Thankfully, these dire predictions were way off the mark. Which is not to say that the Martin protests have been violence-free. Particularly in the emotional hours after the July 13 verdict, there were troubling reports of violence.
Oakland is a case study in how violence has been replaced by peaceful demonstration. On the night of Zimmerman’s acquittal, protesters there shut down streets and smashed windows. A waiter was hit in the head with a hammer while protecting his restaurant’s windows.
Eleven days later, however, little sign of violence remains. On Saturday, as thousands of Americans gathered in over 100 cities nationwide for vigils and marches, protestors took to Oakland’s Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building to rally peacefully, holding their signs in the air as police watched over the scene.
Later that night, a smaller crowd of about 50 people moved to Lake Merritt for a candlelight vigil. Supporters signed a banner reading, “It takes a community to heal a community,” and spoke out against the vandals who responded with violence downtown. One organizer, Jakada Imani, called for a sense of “deep abiding love” despite the pain of African-Americans convinced the verdict was unjust.
Even one man who paid a price for Oakland’s initial violent hours struck a conciliatory note. After Cortt Dunlap, the owner of Oakland’s Awaken Cafe, saw his storefront’s broken window, he taped up a sign that read: “This window will be fixed later today. When will the US Justice System?”
Despite his broken windows, Dunlap stands behind protestors and their fight against racial inequalities in the criminal justice system. While he doesn’t support violence, Dunlap does believe that these incidents are “solitary, individualistic acts” that do not represent the pro-Martin movement as a whole.
“It’s a very small minority of individuals who step outside the bounds of the protest and break a window or assault someone,” Dunlap says. “So I hope that the U.S. justice system will keep its eye on what’s at stake, and not on the actions of a few individuals.”
In Phoenix, where marchers made their way from the City Hall to the federal courthouse Monday, the message was similar. Michael Skolnik, a friend of the Martin Family, told The Daily Caller violence is no way to honor Martin’s memory.
“Trayvon Martin cannot rest in peace if there’s not peace in our streets,” Skolnik said.