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Thursday, September 3, 2020

Riots In The Streets–Oops… Peaceful Protest, MLK, And ‘Can’t We All Just Get Along?’

Anyone viewing  footage of the troubles in Kenosha, St. Louis, Portland, Seattle, and New York cannot help but conclude that these are acts of violent civil disobedience.  Those in Washington who lived through the urban riots of 1967 remember the scenario well – inner city youths raging along the 14th Street Corridor, destroying shop fronts and parked cars, looting televisions, blenders, vacuum cleaners, jewelry, and tools.  The destruction was willy-nilly.  It mattered not whether black or white owned the establishments torched or cars burned – it was total, inchoate, and violent destruction.  Watts was reduced to rubble, Newark to chards and cinders.  Police and National Guard units were stretched to the limit.  Even under the more permissive protocols of the day, personnel were hard-pressed to restore order. 

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Center cities were long in recovering.  Fourteenth Street in Washington has only recently regained its commercial prominence thanks to market-driven high demand for prime urban real estate, a general gentrification of the city, and successive city governments anxious for more tax revenues.  The redevelopment and reconstruction of 14th Street – it is now a center for alternative arts, dance, and theatre – helped to gentrify the neighborhood to the east.  Old, decaying, crime-ridden neighborhoods were replaced by those of upwardly-mobile young, upper middle class owners.  The city was being reclaimed, finally, and turned over to more careful, conscientious, and enterprising residents.

Parts of eastern DC had been centers of Washington’s Harlem Renaissance, and U Street was just as vibrant as 125th Street in Manhattan; but that quickly changed as middle class blacks moved to Prince George’s County and the streets were left to dysfunction and disrepair.  The riots of 1967 simply cleared the streets, but rather than embrace the historic neighborhoods of Duke Ellington and Mavis Rivers, those who remained instead of building a new, positive, and vibrant black community, ran it down even further.  The dysfunction became endemic, virulent, and embedded, and when 2020 rolled around, the residents repeated the past and revolted.

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Revolted against what, one might ask? The decades of entitlement programs which ensured votes but did nothing to generate opportunity and offer an exit strategy and left the hopeful even farther behind? A street culture built on ‘respect’ and anti-social gangland street cred?

No, it was systemic racism, white supremacy, functional elitism, and latter day Jim Crow Reconstructionist oppression. Forget the real reasons for the nation’s highest rates of school truancy, the poorest rates of educational performance, and the highest rates of crime, single-parent families, drug abuse, and civil disorder.  It was white, arrogant elitism responsible for thisThird World catastrophe.

Encouraged by liberal Coastal supporters and given free rein to express their frustration, young black men – as in 1967 – left Shaw and marched downtown.   Pay attention, they shouted.  Black lives matter! White silence is racist complicity!

The usual claque of young idealists, unreconstructed Sixties radicals, Upper West Side Samuel Gompers hopefuls – cheered from the sidelines as downtowns burned.  It’s about time, they shouted.

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One might ask why were these riots happening again.  Was Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, Civil Rights Act, and War on Poverty worth nothing? Did the Sixties not guarantee racial and civil rights? Was not progressivism now enshrined in the national debate?

Yet no one in these idealistic, Utopian, illogical movements ever looked to the source of the problem – the fact that black America was still living the legacy of slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow.  The Emancipation Proclamation was not in 1865 but 1965, and for the hundred interim years nothing much had changed in the South or the Northern enclaves to which ex-slaves rode the Illinois Central.

Plenty of time, say conservatives who admired their European immigrant families who arrived destitute but hopeful in 1910 and prosperous 50 years later.  The Jews, Italians, Irish, and Poles had all endured decades of discrimination and oppression, but emerged strong and successful but not African Americans.

Despite the fact that since LBJ billions have been invested in black communities – affirmative action, welfare, job training, ADC, food stamps, and much more - life in the inner city has deteriorated not improved.

‘Racism’? ask the American majority.  ‘No such thing’, they say pointing to Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and other prominent black Americans. It isn’t race, but culture, class, education, and civility.  Once black Americans – like their immigrant forbears – hew to majority norms, ethics, morality, and principles, they will be accepted with no questions asked.

The champions of government interventionism, programs, investments, lifelines, and unquestioning lionizing of minority identity have done a gross disservice to black Americans.  These liberals in the name of diversity and identity have demeaned the innate, natural permanent worth of the individual.  Instead of promoting enterprise, educational achievement, economic success, they have ignored it.  By so doing, they have overlooked and negated God-given potential.  Arrogantly they say that Government is the necessary surrogate of God.

The riots of 2020 are chickens come home to roost.  Nothing much has changed in fifty years; in fact, if one lives in Washington, one only sees a continuous decline in black socio-economic indicators. Because the so-called champions of the oppressed and downtrodden have assumed that minorities cannot progress without white, liberal generosity and patronage, those they wish to help fall far behind.  They know that individual and community responsibility are the keys to success and emergence from the ghetto, but who can refuse charity, liberal largesse, and political walk-around money?

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Martin Luther King was indeed an American hero, surprisingly forgotten and discredited after only a few short decades.  He is now outdated because of his  ideas of integration – the subsuming of racial identity within a larger and more important national one. We are all one people, he said, borne of the same God, living together under his rules.  Calls for black separatism were to him calls for a return to slavery.  What purpose would it serve for former slaves to be captive to their own submission? To be ruled by political overlords worse than those of the plantation? To live together but on the margins of a productive, peaceful white society?

Malcolm X, Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael gave lie to that notion.  Violent, irascible separatism was the only way the black man could possibly fight the malice of the past.  The riots of the Sixties did nothing of the sort – they did nothing to promote the idea of a socialized black man ready to become a responsible, complete American.  They did the opposite – they portrayed the black man as a permanently restive, aggressive, and violent outlier who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted and, according to him, deserved.

Image result for images H Rap Brown

“Why can’t we all just get along?”, said Rodney King after his rough arrest at the hands of the LAPD. King, of the long rap sheet, the anti-social persona, the least likely to succeed and the most locked up?  Get along on whose terms? Then, as now, words and actions had nothing to justify them or back them up.  The war was not between innocent, good black men and violent, abusive, racist police; but between black men who had lost any respect for law and order and those trying to enforce it.

A sergeant in the DC police force about to take early retirement told how in the old days, a traffic stop meant civil discourse. Infraction explained, ticket given, understanding achieved.  Nowadays, he said, hand on his gun in an unbuttoned holster. Wounding or death Very possible at the corner of P and 17th as never before. The criminals, he said, have been given license – to crime, to disobedience, to disrespect.  ‘By whom?”, he was asked.  Stone silence two months before retirement, but his silence said it all.

The world turns in Darwinian cycles, episodes of congeniality and compromise and periods of conflict and contention.  America, that curiously heterogeneous, unequal society driven by the laws of Locke, Smith, and Friedman, has always sorted out its internal differences and settled its disputes, sometimes violently sometimes by compromise.  This is one of those nasty periods with all sanity and temperance thrown to the winds.  One can only hope that the way will be clear for the right way.

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