Early on the morning of February 26, 2012, Sanford, Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman saw what he believed to be a suspicious person walking through the Twin Lakes residential area where he lived. After placing a call to police and informing them that the man appeared to be on drugs, Zimmerman confronted him personally. An altercation ensued in which Zimmerman fatally shot the 17-year-old boy, Trayvon Martin.
The trial of the killer attracted nationwide attention, with President Barack Obama noting that if he had had a son, “he would look like Trayvon.” The jury’s decision to acquit Zimmerman of all charges sparked a massive outcry in the African-American community, with scholars and historians pointing out that America has a long history of looking the other way when minorities are targeted for killing.
10. The Sacking of Ida B. Wells’ Office (1892)
In Memphis, Tennessee, in 1892, three black men opened a grocery store directly across the street from a prominent white grocery store. African-Americans who lived in the area no longer had to shop at the white-owned store, and its profits rapidly depleted. A mob attacked the new store and all three men were arrested. Another mob stormed the jail, overwhelmed the guards, and lynched them.
Ida B. Wells was a Memphis journalist who knew the three men and was devastated by their deaths. She urged all blacks who could manage it to leave the area. (Over 6,000 did so). A few months after the lynching she published an editorial denying that black men raped white women, and said this was just an excuse for lynching. In retaliation, a mob attacked and destroyed her newspaper office.
9. The Lynching of Sam Hose (1899)
Sam Hose was a black farmhand from Georgia who was one of nearly 400 people lynched in the decades following the Civil War. One night his master was found dead on the kitchen floor, his brains beaten in. His wife claimed Sam Hose had attacked and raped her. Hose fled across country, pursued by authorities. He was arrested, but a mob stormed the train where he was being held and pulled him off at gunpoint. It was Sunday afternoon, and the crowds leaving church formed a mob numbering 2,000. They led Hose to a nearby field, where he was brutally stabbed and set on fire. It took him 20 minutes to die. His last reported words were, “Oh my God. Oh, Jesus.”