Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Aug. 25, 26 or 27
It’s difficult, but patience is required.
That said, renowned playwright Franz Kafka once said, “All human errors are impatience, a premature breaking off of methodical procedure, an apparent fencing-in of what is apparently at issue.”
A few miles south of the grave of Dred Scott – the Missouri slave who sought his freedom but was denied by the Supreme Court because he was “not a citizen” – 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9 was killed by white policeman Darren Wilson, who shot an apparently unarmed Brown six times. Unrest has rocked Ferguson since.
One recalls Los Angeles’ 1992 riots and subsequent reforms, and, decades earlier, the 1968 riots that resulted in recommendations from the Kerner Commission, chaired by Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner.
Macomb native Todd Purdum, now with Politico, in his new book, “An Idea Time Whose Time Has Come,” writes “When it came to Civil Rights, much of American was paralyzed in 1963.”
Paralysis seems back, yet progress has been real.
And real slow.
In 1900, mostly in the South, Black Americans were prevented from voting, riding on trains alongside whites, and using hospitals or schools with whites – besides being lynched.
Since then, advances include changes in attitudes about schools, housing, marriage and stereotypes, according to the study “The Real Record on Racial Attitudes,” by Maria Krysan of the University of Illinois and others. That work, in the 2012 book “Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey Since 1972,” found:
* in 1972 less than 15 percent of whites thought Black and white students should attend separate schools, but by 1985 so few embraced that segregationist belief that the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey dropped the question;
* in 1990, 10 percent of whites said they’d live in a neighborhood where most of the residents were Black, but by 2008, 25 percent said they would;
* the idea of an Black/white marriage, first polled in 1990, was opposed by 65 percent of whites, but by 2008, that number had fallen to about 25 percent;
* in 1990, between 60 and 65 percent of whites held negative stereotypes of African Americans’ intelligence and diligence, but by 2008 the percentages fell to between 24 and 41 percent.
“We’ve made extraordinary progress,” President Obama said August 18, “but we have not made enough progress.”
Indeed, conditions are still bad. Blacks are more likely to be searched if they’re pulled over on a traffic stop, given prison terms 10-percent longer than whites charged with the same offense, sentenced to death three times more often than whites when victims are white, are twice as likely to be jobless as whites, and twice as likely to be poor than whites.
Unsurprisingly, black Americans’ confidence in government has declined, according to Krysan’s analysis. Dr. Martin Luther King in 1966 said, “A lot of people have lost faith in the Establishment; they’ve lost faith in the democratic process,” and the following year the nation had some 150 riots.
Also, African-Americans’ and Latinos’ trust in law enforcement is low. Many African Americans fear the police; many police fear African Americans, too, but they’re well-armed and have the criminal justice system behind them.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, defended activating the National Guard by citing “deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent acts” (which also describe local police, you could argue).
The FBI tracks police “justifiable homicides,” and records that about 400 occur annually – more than one a day. Also, media have distorted and even helped justify questionable uses of force, said a 2010 article in the journal Theoretical Criminology.
Further, racial profiling exists, according to a National Institute of Justice report. Victims arguably range from Rodney King and Amadou Diallo to Eric Garner and Ezell Ford.
However, police-citizen confrontations can stem from class bias as much as race, according to a 2003 paper, “Neighborhood Context and Police Use of Force,” which found that high-crime neighborhoods are the most likely sites for such violence.
“Officers are significantly more likely to use higher levels of force when encountering criminal suspects in high-crime areas and neighborhoods with high levels of concentrated disadvantage independent of suspect behavior,” wrote researchers Michael Reisig of Michigan State University and William Terrill of Northeastern. Police “label distressed socioeconomic neighborhoods as potential sources of conflict.”
Obama also said, “We’re going to move forward together by trying to unite … and understand each other, … not simply divide ourselves from one another.”
But Kafka also remarked, “Because of impatience we were driven out of Eden, and because of impatience we cannot return.”
[PICTURED: A girl uses a rag to try to protect herself from tear gas police fired at protestors in Ferguson on August 11. Photo via rollingstone.com by Getty Images' Scott Olson, who was arrested there covering an August 18 demonstration.]