RIOTS

I gather Minneapolis is braced for a repeat of riotous devastation and flames if the mob doesn’t like the verdict handed down for the offending police officer. What juror cannot be aware of what might await them if they should fail, not just to convict, but to deliver the harshest of possible verdicts, even if the evidence doesn’t support it. Of course, it may or may not support it. I’m not there to judge. I just see a dynamic playing out that is poisonous to the American rule of law and the imperative of a fair trial and equality before the law. I see the incipient reign of intimidation and mob rule threatening our democracy. I am not alone, I’m sure.

I understand Minneapolis used to be a great place and that everyone of every race and creed pretty much got along.

In 1968, following the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, there were major episodes of political violence in Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Louisville, New York City, Pittsburgh, Trenton, Washington and Wilmington. These came on the heels of the long, hot summer that was the summer of 1967 in which 43 people died and more than 1000 were injured in Detroit riots. There were 26 killed in Newark. Atlanta, Birmingham, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cininnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York City. Rochester and Toledo also erupted. There were a total of 159 riots that summer. It is my sense that Dr. King’s gospel of non-violence and peaceful resistance, so seeming effective to that point, was rapidly losing g round to the radical voices in the minority community — and to violence.

(I was working for the National Parks in California that summer of 1967 between my junior and senior years in college in Boston. The closest I came to the riots was to see black and white newsreel footage of burning Detroit up on the screen of a Fresno drive-in theatre. In San Francisco that summer, it was the Summer of Love. It is so unfortunate that the Love didn’t get spread around. However, the previous summer in Hunter Point, San Francisco, there was a neighborhood insurrection after police shot a youth fleeing the scene of a stolen car.)

What do riots and racial unrest and civic destruction of fear do for a city? Well, Detroit has yet to recover. The median family income of black households in Detroit sank to the ground in the 1970s, and my reading suggests to me that that was not because of a normal dip or rise in the local economy and a consequent uptick in unemployment. Rather, it was because much of the black middle class left the city in the wake of the riots.

The story repeated itself in other American cities: the flight of a black middle class combined with rampant white flight leading to a sharp change in the racial composition of urban cores, low black employment and wages, high rates of black incarceration and, generally, worsening unemployment. And, of course, crime, violence and gangs.

Are the riots about poverty and police procedures? They can’t be entirely ruled out as factors. So, too, a sense of powerlessness among blacks. This, I submit, can’t be cured by legislation, more generous health insurance subsidies or by a duplicitous, Marxist movement with an agenda that would dismantle the nuclear family, and foist modern gender-related issues on us, regarding them equal to a call for an end to police violence against blacks. Matters might be marginally improved by more community-oriented policing and cop-community interpersonal relations ( the sorrowful recordings of a weeping, erratic, likely drug-addled George Floyd begging for understanding makes me wish some one of those cops had stopped the whole procedure and talked with the man, reassured him he was not a bad man — even if he was not, as we know, a man free of a criminal history. His story, and so much of the story of the inner city, is a story of drug addiction. Why else would a guy bother to pass a paltry fake $20 bill other than to feed his drug habit. What happened to him was unjust and damnable. I would love to see a remorseful cop on the stand, but whatever his attitude, he deserves a fair trial every bit as much as George Floyd deserved to live.)

Something I think, based on clear evidence, that would help: the shoring up of families, black and white, and the involvement of churches. The Civil Right Movement led by ML King was a religious movement. But Matthews gospel comes to mind –“since the time of John the Baptist, the Kingdom of God has been subject to violence, and the violent bear it away ( meaning, evil does triumph) — but not for ever. Not for the long haul.

So, will we see riots? Would they serve any purpose? Of course they would. A very bleak, evil and destructive purpose — which is the purpose of all anarchy — as our national divide gradually widens to becomes a Grand Canyon.

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