America has not learned the lessons that spawned the period of racial and civil unrest of the long hot summer of 1967. Across the country, at least 159 racially tinged riots rocked major cities that included Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York, Milwaukee and Detroit. The country was still reeling from Los Angeles’ Watts riots of 1965 and other riots that seemed to be occurring every summer with regular frequency. The tipping point always seemed to be an incident involving a police shooting combined with systemic racism and economic depression in communities of color.
America was in crisis and the Detroit riots were in progress when President Lyndon Johnson created the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission to study race relations in America. The commission released its findings on Feb. 29, 1968, after a seven-month investigation. The results were a damning indictment of White racism against Blacks in America. The report noted that there was systemic failure by the federal and state government in housing, education and social services. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is quoted as calling the report a “physician’s warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life.”
The Kerner Commission’s final report pulled no punches with its findings and even with White mainstream media reporting “The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective.” The most famous quote in the report being “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.”
Now 48 years later under the leadership of a Black president, America is once again at a dangerous racial precipice. The continuing legal “killing under the protection of the badge” is becoming all too painful and frequent.The recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are telling examples of policing when it comes to Black males. Most recently, actor Jessie Williams was able to stir the consciousness and frustration of many Blacks during a powerful speech at the BET Awards. Further giving validation to the Kerner Commission’s recommendation that cities should “hire more diverse and sensitive police forces.”
But it’s not all about how the police abuse Black people; as the old folks used to say, “Dat train ain’t ne’er been late.” There is also a strikingly discordant tone resonating throughout the two major political parties in America. Within the Republican Party and Donald Trump we are seeing a divisive and populist demagogue that is redefining the modern Republican Party. The prospect of which terrifies many in the Republican elite who disdain Trump’s divisive and often racist rhetoric and the possible loss of the White House or even a Trump presidency. The Democratic Party is faced with a flawed candidate in Hillary Clinton or a socialist leaning Bernie Sanders. The impact of Sanders’ platform can’t be ignored and addresses many of the recommendations and observations of the Kerner Commission’s report. However, he is viewed as too radical in his push for reform within the system.
Sanders marched with Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement and was an active member in protests against a racist and corrupt system. But some view him as not electable because of his socialist agenda.
Sadly, with all the different political rhetoric in play, the lessons of the Kerner Commission have failed to take hold and the results are plain to see. Indeed, we are a divided nation not only racially but also socioeconomically.