On Front Page, USA Today Connected Trayvon Shooting to Rodney King, L.A. Riots
USA Today put racism front and center in Friday’s weekend edition. Beneath a banner promo touting a big story in Sports on “Racist tweets reflect poorly on hockey, Boston,” the paper highlighted the alleged similarities between the Rodney King beating in 1992 and the Trayvon Martin shooting today.
Reporters Marisol Bello, Haya el Nasser, and William M. Welch found “activists” and “scholars” to cry racism: “Both cases, 20 years apart, intensify the persistent debate over how fairly black men are treated by police and the courts. Activists, scholars and some of those involved in the cases say the incidents occurred because of a stereotype of black men as violent aggressors.”
Rodney King was apparently one of today’s activists, promoting a new book:
"It's about bullying a black man," says King, 47, who is traveling the country to promote his memoir, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. "This time, a young man was bullied to death. I'm still alive; Trayvon Martin is not here."
There are differences between the cases, of course. King, then 25, was speeding and driving drunk when police stopped him. Trayvon, 17, was walking home from a store when Zimmerman, 28, confronted him.
USA Today isn’t really delving very deeply. King led police on a high-speed chase (because a speeding conviction would have violate his parole for a previous robbery conviction). He was highly intoxicated as he drove with two friends. The two friends complied with police orders to lay down on the ground, and they were unharmed. King resisted, even after he was Tasered. (This doesn’t quite match USA Today’s worry about black men being mistaken for violent aggressors.) The police beating was not proper (and led to two of the officers being convicted by a federal probe), but neither was King’s behavior.
It's too early in the Trayvon Martin shooting to know if it's accurate or inaccurate to report Martin was just walking home from a store when he was confronted.
USA Today ended the front-page segment of its cover story with more racism accusations:
Still, the presumption exists that if a black man is involved in an incident, he must be the wrongdoer, says Michelle Jacobs, a law professor at the University of Florida who studies the effect of race in prosecutions.
"It happened with Rodney King, and it's why it took Trayvon's parents and national protests before his parents could get a legitimate investigation of their son's death," she says.
Jacobs says the anger and frustration that fueled the Los Angeles riots still exists in minority communities, where people fear they will not be treated fairly by police and the courts.
"Politically, things are different," says activist Al Sharpton, who has been holding rallies with Trayvon's parents over their son's death. He notes that much has changed in 20 years, including the election of the first black president and the appointment of the first black attorney general.
But because violence is always a concern, Sharpton says, Trayvon's parents and the attorneys in the case have been calling for peaceful protests since the beginning.
Law professor Laurie Levenson should win some sort of award for understatement:
"The riots didn't accomplish as much as people would want," Levenson says, recounting the death toll of 53 and the $1 billion in damages. People may now be asking, "How do we get attention in a way that's more positive?"