Our recent reading from the New York Times titled “The Consequences of the 1960’s Race Riots Come Into View” references economic historian Robert Margo. Margo speaks about his desire to talk about the different riots during the 60’s, but he preferred soon rather than later. About fifty years later, riots are frequently happening again, due to out lack of understanding and change over time. Too often are quotes such as, “in due time” and “doesn’t happen overnight” used to delay action. Abu-Lughod explains why riots happened/are happening and the issues that need to be addressed now.
In our viewing of John Oliver, he says that everywhere in the world has experience racial tension. The mayor of Ferguson clearly either is ignoring the problem, or is blind to his own city. Cities that fail to acknowledge that tension will fail minorities, as will cities such as Harlem who attempted to forget theirs. Between 1925 and 1930, Harlem’s black population grew dramatically, causing Abu-Lughod to call it “a city within a city.” Over the next several years overcrowding became a citywide issue, but few areas were as congested as Harlem. This created anger and distrust within the black community. However, the problem was not immediately addressed, because even though racial tension was obvious, “they were more harmonious than in other urban centers.” As overcrowding occurred, schools began to overflow with students. These schools were already dealing with a lack of proper materials and “unsympathetic white teachers,” which only meant weaker education for more students. Instead of addressing this issue from the start and funding urban schools and hiring qualified teachers, our country has allowed poor education to continue. Black leaders in Baltimore spoke out about education being a pivotal concern of the protestors. Their lack of quality education leads to lack of opportunity, leaving young people trapped in an environment they cannot succeed in.
Police brutality has obviously been the major trigger point in recent riots. Several white police officers have shot and killed unarmed black teens and too often are found innocent. The Los Angeles riot of 1992 was sparked by the beating of Rodney King by four white police officers. After several delays and changes in the process leading up to the trial, the police officers were acquitted. Immediately, the city was filled with rioters who needed to be heard. After another incident black girl was killed and her shooter let free with a fine, a survey was done. While all races felt similarly about most questions, they greatly differed on the question about whether they found the verdicts right. Almost 100 percent of blacks disagreed with the verdicts, which can be viewed as a desperate cry for help. About 75 percent of Latinos and Asians disagreed with the verdict. Finally, whites answered with just under two-thirds disagreeing with the verdicts. However, twenty percent of whites agreed with the verdict. Again, there was no immediate action taken to prevent this from happening again. Discovering who is racist is not an easy task, but we have clearly seen that over twenty years later, white police are targeting blacks, especially young black men. How can we continue to expect the black community to stay peaceful and obey authority, when those sworn to protect and serve do just the opposite.
I cannot even begin to try and explain all the factors that go into a riot, or better yet a angry, desperate protest. The New York Times article explains that while average salary between races has narrowed slightly, total net worth has actually began to widen since 1970. Also, urban homes owned by blacks are valued (as of 1990) at almost half of urban households owned by whites! From what Abu-Lughod and others have written, we appear to be setting ourselves up for more of the same. Now is the time to take action on the matters in an attempt to prevent further distrust, damage, and loss of lives. As the Huffington Post article declares, we need more than a “conversation” or a “dialogue” about race relations. We need a plan. Now.