Trayvon Martin May be this Generation’s Rodney King, by Derryck Green

How can I say this? The gradual escalation of racial rhetoric revolving around Trayvon Martin’s death in Sanford, Florida has reached a level from which there may be no return.

Recently, the New Black Panther Party held a conference call, parts of which were later posted on It sounded like the call — with fanatical speakers preparing supporters for a violent, blood-stained revolution (presumably against white people) and an overthrow of racist capitalism – came right of the 1960s.

The New Black Panther Party call contained racist and hate-filled language toward white Americans, calling them “crackers,” “honkies,” “devils” and “demons.”

This is the same New Black Panther Party that, toward the end of March, when the media hype over the Trayvon Martin case was at its zenith, offered a $10,000 bounty for the capture of George Zimmerman (the man who shot Martin). Several days later, Mikhail Muhammad, the Party’s southern regional leader, said they hoped to increase the bounty to $1 million, and said the bounty would be paid whether Zimmerman was found dead or alive.

Promoting the same kind of vigilante justice that Martin’s family and supporters have condemned, Al Sharpton declared there would be increased civil disobedience until Zimmerman was arrested.

Jesse Jackson only added to this inflammation of emotion and potential for violence by saying “blacks are under attack.” He cited a litany of problems facing blacks unrelated to the Martin death, but insinuated all, including Martin’s demise, are the fault of racism.

The Congressional Black Caucus also claimed that Trayvon’s death was the result of “unfounded assumptions and racial bias” in a resolution introduced in Washington.

To its credit, the county chapter of the NAACP where Sanford is located rejected Sharpton’s instigation of civil disobedience. But the national NAACP has yet to do so. Neither Barack Obama nor Eric Holder denounced Sharpton.

Not one establishment black “leader” has condemned the escalating rhetoric to preemptively quell any violence that may result if the trial of Zimmerman finds he acted in self-defense or acted without malicious intent. Already, on that New Black Panther Party call, Tampa party chief of staff Michelle Williams has said she is “kinda pissed off that the state of Florida ain’t [already] on fire.”

This lack of condemnation effectively constitutes passive approval of the rhetoric and any violence that has already taken place or is to come.

And the police in Sanford are already preparing for worst-case scenarios.

By participating in and refusing to condone the radical rhetoric and calls for violence, Martin supporters seeking justice for Trayvon at any cost undermine their moral credibility.

Trayvon Martin is said to be this generation’s Emmett Till. If he was, the rhetoric and civil disobedience could be justified. Till, a black 14-year-old, was mutilated and murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly speaking to a white woman in an inappropriate manner.

But Trayvon Martin is not Emmett Till. Their respective situations, along with the America each inhabited, are not comparable. Till died as a result of a racism embodied in a caste system America overcame during the arduous process of granting civil rights to all those governed by the Constitution. Martin died, based on the information available at this point, from being shot with a legally-owned gun by a possibly overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer and maybe even in self-defense. And Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder.

With the prospect of violence in the wake of any action against George Zimmerman that doesn’t involve throwing him in jail and throwing away the key, Trayvon Martin’s legacy may end up being likened more to Rodney King’s than Emmett Till’s. If that happens, Till will again be a distant memory in the minds and hearts of those civil rights leaders whose desire today is to continue fighting race battles America has already won.

I pray for the residents of Sanford.

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Derryck Green, a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network, received a M.A. in Theological Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing his doctorate in ministry at Azusa Pacific University. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

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