July 15, 2013 — -- intro:When George Zimmerman's "not guilty" verdict was announced Saturday evening, the news inspired protests in cities across the U.S. The ruling hit black communities especially hard, with many calling the case an indicator of systemic racial injustice.
However, Trayvon Martin's case is hardly the first to stir up racial passions on a national scale. America has a long history of public trials that have torn the country along lines of race, ethnicity, and religion. Here are just a few of those cases.
quicklist: 1 title: Murder of Mary Phagan, 1913 text: Leo Frank, a Jewish man, was accused of murdering a young white woman named Mary Phagan who worked with him in a pencil factory in Marietta, Georgia. Despite forensic evidence that pointed to Frank's innocence, he was condemned to death by hanging. After the governor commuted his sentence to life in prison, an angry mob led by the Klu Klux Klan kidnapped Frank from the jail and lynched him. In 1986, Frank was pardoned.
quicklist: 2 title: The Scottsboro Boys Trial, 1931text: Two white women, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, claimed to have been raped by a group of men. Nine black men and boys ranging from 13 to 20 were arrested for assault, and all but the youngest were sentenced to death. The Supreme Court sent the case back for retrial, and all defendants were eventually released after Bates confessed that she had lied while testifying for the defense.
quicklist: 3title: Sleepy Lagoon Murder, 1942text: After the mysterious drowning death of Jose Gallardo Diaz, the Los Angeles Police were quick to arrest 17 Mexican American young men and sentenced nine of the defendants to second-degree murder despite shaky evidence. The convictions were reversed two years later, but the case led to the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, a series of clashes between white servicemen and young Latinos.
quicklist: 4title: Murder of Emmett Till, 1955text: Till was a 14-year-old boy brutally murdered by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam after reportedly flirting with a white woman. The trial attracted immense media attraction, but the two men were acquitted of the crime. They later admitted to in a magazine interview to killing Till, but were protected by double jeopardy. Till's murder contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which allows the Department of Justice to intervene in local law enforcement issues in which great civil rights injustices occur. The NAACP is currently seeking the DOJ to review the 'Stand Your Ground' law in the Trayvon Martin case under this law.
quicklist: 5title: Central Park Jogger Case, 1989text: In one of the most controversial cases of the century, five black and Hispanic teenagers were convicted in the 1989 rape and beating of Trisha Meili, known at the time only as the "Central Park jogger." Having already served between 5 and 13 years for the crime, the young men, known by many as the "Central Park Five," were exonerated in 2002 based on DNA evidence.
quicklist: 6title: Rodney King Beating, 1991text: Rodney king was beaten by Los Angeles police officers after a high-speed car chase in 1991. Footage of the beating incited public outrage and allegations of race-based police brutality. Three of the four police officers were acquitted of their charges, triggering the 1992 Los Angeles riots, in which 53 people were killed and 2,000 were injured.
quicklist: 7title: OJ Simpson Murder Trial, 1994text: Former American football star and actor O.J. Simpson was tried on two counts of murder following the stabbing deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ronald Lyle Goldman. Simpson was acquitted after a very high-profile trial. Public opinion on the verdict split the nation along racial lines.
quicklist: 8 title: Anastasio Hernandez Rojas Beating, 2010text: Twenty San Diego Border Patrol agents beat and tased undocumented immigrant Anastasio Hernandez Rojas as he allegedly resisted deportation. His family says he died shortly after the incident due to excessive force that was caught on camera. Last year, after a Frontline investigation into his death, and outrage from Latino advocacy organizations, the FBI launched an investigation into the use of force in the case. However, no agents have yet been convicted; they all have been allowed to remain anonymous in the ongoing suit.