Friday, May 1, 2015

The Man Who Foresaw Baltimore

Nearly 40 years ago, the Kerner Commission warned us of all this. We didn’t listen.

In 1967, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders reviewed the events of the previous summer. Detroit, Newark and over a dozen other cities had struggled with intense episodes of violence and disorder. The disturbances were typically sparked by interactions with police, they began in African American inner-city neighborhoods, and young black men were often in the forefront of the confrontations with police and national guardsmen.

Analyzing these events, the Kerner Commission—named for its chair, Illinois Governor Otto Kerner–concluded: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.” A solution would require “a commitment to national action–compassionate, massive and sustained. … From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.”

Over the next four decades, Kerner’s bold language was ignored. Conditions deteriorated in many of America’s inner cities even as a new get-tough-on-crime politics—which included very little compassion—became the national policy and a staple of political wisdom for both parties.

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