Reprinted from today’s New York Times Editorial:
“Riots are socially destructive and self defeating,” Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1967, during an earlier spasm of unrest. In the same passage he wrote, “It is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities as it is for me to condemn riots.”
“In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard,” Dr. King said. “As long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”
More than half a century later, justice is still being postponed. Racial inequality remains rampant in wealth, housing, employment, education – and enforcement of the law. This is not news, but it is the responsibility of all those in power to recognize and fix it. As President Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner Commission found after studying the inequality at the root of the 1960s riots: “White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it and white society condones it.”
Some steps to move the country towards a place where citizens don’t live in fear of those charged with serving and protecting them include:
- Use-of-force Policies
- Union Contracts
- Leverage Federal Funding
Most of the above reforms can happen right now, as departments around the country have shown. When they do, the police and citizens begin to see one another as collaborators rather than antagonists. In too many police departments there is a culture of impunity. Until that culture is changed, there will continue to be rightful rage at its existence. Rather than just condemning or applauding protesters, Americans should listen closely to what they’re demanding.
Peace, Dr. G.