1967, the Summer of Love in San Francisco: groovy music, free love, peace and harmony, Be-In’s, Love-In’s, gentle people, and if you went there, you wanted to be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.
But for folks in other cities across America, the summer of 1967 was the “long hot summer” of violence and civil unrest, the summer of riots in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Tampa, Birmingham, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Britain, Rochester, Plainfield, and in Newark.
Newark was the most intense. Six days of rioting, looting, and destruction that left 26 dead, 750 injured and over 1,000 were jailed. Mostly African-Americans. Property damage amounted to more than $10 million.
The background to the Newark riots according to Wikipedia: “In the period leading up to the riots, police racial profiling, redlining, and lack of opportunity in education, training, and jobs led local African-American residents to feel powerless and disenfranchised. In particular, many felt they had been largely excluded from meaningful political representation and often suffered police brutality.”
On July 29, President Lyndon Johnson appointed a special commission to study the increase in American violence. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders was chaired by Otto Kerner, Governor of Illinois, and included such people as John Lindsay, Mayor of New York, and Roy Wilkins, Executive Director of the NAACP. The commission was directed to answer three questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?
[Photo: LBJ speaks at the advisory commission’s first meeting on July 29, 1967 at the White House,Time.com]
I got a copy of the report shortly after it was published in paperback by Bantam Books. 483 pages. In his Introduction, Tom Wickers of the New York Times wrote, “This report is a picture of one nation, divided.” The Commission stated in its introduction, “This is our basic conclusion: One nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.”
A section in Chapter Two, “Patterns of Disorder,” reads:
“In almost all the cities surveyed, we found the same major grievance topics among Negro communities – although they varied in importance from city to city. The deepest grievances can be ranked into the following three levels of relative intensity:
First Level of Intensity:
- Police practices
- Unemployment and underemployment
- Inadequate housing”
“Police practices were, in some form, a significant grievance in virtually all cities and were often one of the most serious complaints. Included in this category were complaints about physical or verbal abuse of Negro citizens by police officers, the lack of adequate channels for complaints against police, discriminatory police employment and promotional practices, a general lack of respect for Negroes by police officers, and the failure of police departments to provide adequate protection for Negroes.”
The Commission devoted 200 pages of the report to the question “What can be done?” Too much to discuss here, but what is clear is that in the 49 intervening years since the report was issued, there is more to do. Police employment practices have improved, some inequalities have been rectified, yet many of the other issues persist.
In this report, the energy of intensity decreases as the levels graduate to higher numbers. The First Level of intensity is like DEFCOM 1, nuclear war imminent.
2016, another long hot summer: more violence against African-Americans, more deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers, and five police who were protecting peaceful protesters at a Black Lives Matter march assassinated.
Kai Wright in The Nation writes, the Dallas ambush is “a reminder that no life will be safe and truly valued until we also confront the broader American culture of violence.”
There is no question that every day police officers around the country put their lives at risk. We should be grateful for their selfless service and praise their courage. But police violence, the excessive use of deadly force, is a serious problem, and no one should try to deny it. Just as protestors and perpetrators are held accountable for their actions when they cross the line, so too must police be held accountable. Independent investigations and prosecutions can be a deterrent.
And it’s not just police. I’m sure many of you feel as I do, that violence permeates too many aspects of American culture.
Anyway, I thought it was worthwhile to point out the parallels between 1967 and 2016. Maybe even necessary. Of course, ’67 wasn’t the only long hot summer, and this stuff didn’t just start in the sixties. I think we are still divided. We have further to go, and we will always have further to go.
However, in the immediacy of the present moment, we need some change.
On July 29, 1967, that day when President Johnson issued Executive Order 11365 establishing the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder, the #1 song in the nation was The Doors’ “Light my Fire”:
The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
Try now we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre
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Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Bantam Books, March 1968