A friend of mine, I'll call him XX, posed a question to me. What happens if George Zimmerman is acquitted? Although that is something that I really don't want to consider, it is worthy of discussion. We've been down this road before and have seen what can happen.
The conversation went as follows:
XX: I wonder what would happen if the justice system lets Zimmerman go? Hmm
EH: You don't want to think about that. It could get a little ugly.
XX: Watts riots among others?
XX: I mean brother we have seen it happen before so you know it can happen again.
EH: Brother I am 54 years old. I've seen this happen many times in my life. The issue I have is when things don't play out as they should we trash our own neighborhoods. What good does that do?
XX: Yes that's true. We do a lot of reacting and less acting. We need to act more. Reactions only last a little bit.
I hope with all of my heart that George Zimmerman gets what he deserves but what will we do if he's acquitted? Will we react by rioting and destroying our own neighborhoods or will we rise above the emotional urge to lash out?
I spent my early childhood years growing up in Harlem. On July 16, 1964, 15-year-old James Powell from Harlem, was shot and killed by NYPD Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan. The teenage summer student from Robert Wagner Junior High school had been engaged in horseplay with other boys and a building superintendent in front of an apartment building at 215 East 76th Street on Manhattan's Upper East Side. When the man sprayed the boys with a hose, Powell chased him back into his building. At this point Lt Gilligan, who said the boy lunged at him with a knife, intervened firing his service revolver twice at the boy. On July 18, 1964, the riots started. Six days later it was over and the property damage was estimated to be between $500,000 and $1 million.
That was the first riot that I remember. Since that time there have been many more:
The point is that nothing is ever achieved by rioting. Lives are lost, people go to prison, and the neighborhoods that we live in are sometimes permanently ruined.
We must continue to press forward and push for Mr. Zimmerman to get his just due, but we need to be prepared for the "What if?".
Ernest R. Heyward is the Founder and President of the Marketplace for Social Awareness and Social Responsibility Inc.