Two generations have passed since this much blood has run in the streets; 1967, to be exact.
If 1966 was mostly about peace, love dope and hippie beads, the September “Negro” riot in Atlanta foreshadowed the long hot summer of 1967; that riot started because a young black man, Stokely Carmichael, organized a demonstration over an Atlanta cop shooting a black, unarmed car thief.
In October Bobby Seale & Huey P. Newton formed the Black Panthers of Oakland; they also formed a “police alert patrol”, following police to make sure they obeyed the law. The country was on edge, poised for anything, it seemed.
But we got through the winter and early Spring well enough, even with the advent of MLK’s half-million strong anti-war march on the UN.
But after another unarmed black man had been gunned down by Boston police, in June of ’67 a race riot broke out in Boston’s Roxbury area. A sit-in by the Mothers for Adequate Welfare (MAW) at the Grove Hall Office in Roxbury touched it off. Police officers used billy-clubs to beat the women and it went downhill from there. By the time the summer was over, nearly 160 race riots had lit up the country.
President Johnson was alarmed enough by the violence that he formed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (even while Detroit was still in flames), which ultimately issued what became known as the Kerner Report, a tome of a book that actually became a best-seller. The commission found that the riots resulted from “black frustration at lack of economic opportunity.” It also said: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”
The report was released in March of 1968. Johnson rejected the commission’s recommendations out of hand and simply ignored the report, which renewed the same tensions . A month later, April 1968, MLK was assassinated and once again rioting broke out in more than 100 cities.
Those of us who reached our majority by ’67 (or very nearly so) have no problem finding parallels between that long hot summer and the current one. With the possible exception that police of today appear to enjoy an unprecedented blanket immunity while shooting and killing blacks.
So, no – Dallas was not a surprise. Neither is Baton Rouge. And neither will be the next act of violence; read the Kerner Report and ask yourself what’s all that different between 1967 and 2016.