Zimmerman trial verdict: L.A. protesters struggle to stamp out violence (+video)
L.A. officials and leaders of the demonstrations against the not-guilty verdict in the Zimmerman trial were united Tuesday in warning the violence would undercut the protesters' desired message.
Officials and activists in California are moving quickly to halt the spread of violence that accompanied protests after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin, with both parties saying the violence undercuts any positive message the protests were meant to send.
At least 13 people were arrestedÂ overnight Monday in Los AngelesÂ after scuffles that included attacks on a local TV cameraman. Rocks were thrown, store windows were broken,Â and traffic was blocked on major freeways in both Oakland and L.A.
At a press conference at Dorsey High in L.A. Tuesday afternoon, activists and officials came together to send a message that the violence of a few will not be allowed toÂ interfere with theÂ rights of both the peacefulÂ protesters as well as innocent bystanders.
Police chief Charlie Beck said he preferred his officers make no arrests on Tuesday night, as reported by the local NBC affiliate. But he said they would not tolerate lawbreakers.
"You come here again tonight, you will go to jail,"Â he said.
âYour actions will reduce the power of the message from this community, and that is wrong. That is a shameful act.â
Even as Los Angeles announced a crackdown on illegal activity, activists enlisted volunteer âpeace monitorsâ to guard the further rallies and marches planned for Tuesday evening.
Longtime local activist Najee Ali, executive director of Project Islamic H.O.P.E. in Los Angeles, whoÂ organized the main Los Angeles rally minutes after the verdict was read on Saturday night, says veteran organizers haveÂ learned important lessons over theÂ decades of landmark protests â which they do not want to see undermined by a new generation of those willing to tolerate violence.
âLetâs put this in historicalÂ context,â he says.Â âWe have a long history of racial profiling in this state that led to the birth of the Black Panther party in the sixties and icons like Angela Davis.â
The state is also home toÂ two of theÂ nationâs largest and most devastating race riots: the Watts riots in the â60s, and the 1992 riots that followed the acquittal of four white L.A. policeman in the beating of Rodney King.
The hard-earned lesson from these decades of social activism, says Mr. Ali,Â is that peaceful protests with clear demands are the most likely to be productive. The outbreaks of violence can threaten the deeper goals of the protests, says Ali.
Ali says he has reached out to younger activists, some of whom are involved in the violence.Â Many ofÂ them cut theirÂ protest teeth in the local Occupy movementÂ â and have little focus behind hitting the streets, he says. âThese younger ones have no leadership orÂ plan,â he says, âall they have is a bullhorn and a sign but no idea of what to do.â
This lack of focus is one of theÂ hallmarks of the recent Occupy movement, which many now say is feeding the current protests across the country, says New York defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, Stuart Slotnick.
âWhen the movement launched in New York, it had specific goals,â he says, âbut very quicklyÂ people came along holding up whatever issues they had on their mind,â including violence.
Ali is concerned this willingness to tolerate illegal actions and a lack of focus could set back real progress on concrete goals of the current protests. These includeÂ everything from a call to the Department of Justice to press further chargesÂ against George Zimmerman, aÂ nationwide examination of âstand your groundâ laws and a reassessmentÂ of the value placed on young AfricanÂ American life, he pointsÂ out.
Younger activists have a different perspective, agrees bloggerÂ and African American activist JasmyneÂ Cannick.Â âItâs true thatÂ Â Trayvon Martinâs family may have called for peaceful protest, but they have to understand that this is now something bigger than them,âÂ she says. âFor a lot of people this is the straw that broke the camelâs back.â
Given CaliforniaâsÂ place in the annals of social protest, it is important thatÂ the Golden State get it right.
âWhere California goes, so goes the rest of the country,â says attorney Areva Martin, founder and managing partner of the L.A. lawfirm MartinÂ & Martin.
âWe have a rich history of organizing and progressive social politics,â she says. âIt is no surprise that people are looking to California to see where this is all headed.â