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Understanding the 1967 Newark Riots

While we’re waiting for Christopher Wray, President Trump’s nominee for FBI chief, to share his diversity plan with the Senate Judiciary Committee and the wider world, it’s worth reflecting on an important law enforcement-related anniversary happening today.

On July 12, 1967, an unfounded report began to circulate that Newark, N.J. police officers had beaten a black taxi driver to death. (In reality he’d survived the beating, which he received for “tailgating” the officers’ cruiser.) The city’s black population, exhausted by police abuse, inadequate city services, and long-standing economic oppression, exploded. Errin Haines Whack, a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team, begins her story on the anniversary by framing the event as an early awakening for northern white society:

For four days in July, Newark was the epicenter of black rage. The rioting left 26 dead, more than 700 injured and nearly 1,500 arrested, mostly black. In addition to the $10 million in property damage, the riots left economic and emotional scars on Brick City that, in many ways, have not yet healed.

Newark was a deadly entry in the long list of major urban areas that exploded over a five-year period, among them Watts in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and New York’s Harlem. Days after Newark burned, Detroit followed. The disorders exposed — for the first time to much of white America — racial and economic disparities that went far beyond the familiar scenes of segregation in the South.

In the aftermath of the Newark and Detroit riots, President Lyndon B. Johnson commissioned an 11-member National Advisory Committee on Civil Disorders to help explain why these cities were rising up. The committee’s 1968 findings, known informally as the Kerner Report, were astonishing in their candor. “The abrasive relationship between the police and the minority communities has been a major — and explosive — source of grievance, tension and disorder,” the report read. “The blame must be shared by the total society.”

Below is an excerpt from the report’s introduction. Reading it, I’m having a hard time imagining the current administration producing such an eloquent and courageous call to action. Fifty years later, the promise of justice lies elsewhere.

This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.

Reaction to last summer’s disorders has quickened the movement and deepened the division. Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of American life; they now threaten the future of every American.

This deepening racial division is not inevitable. The movement apart can be reversed. Choice is still possible. Our principal task is to define that choice and to press for a national resolution.

To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.

The alternative is not blind repression or capitulation to lawlessness. It is the realization of common opportunities for all within a single society.

This alternative will require a commitment to national action—compassionate, massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on this earth. From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.

The vital needs of the nation must be met; hard choices must be made, and, if necessary, new taxes enacted.

Violence cannot build a better society. Disruption and disorder nourish repression, not justice. They strike at the freedom of every citizen. The community cannot—it will not—tolerate coercion and mob rule.

Violence and destruction must be ended—in the streets of the ghetto and in the lives of people.

Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans.

What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain, and white society condones it.

It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens—urban and rural, white and black, Spanish-surname, American Indian, and every minority group.

On Point

The Ohio police officer who shot and killed a black Walmart shopper will not be chargedBeavercreek Police Officer Sean Williams had already been cleared of criminal charges in the August 2014 shooting death of John Crawford III. Crawford had selected a pellet gun for purchase and was chatting on his cell phone when Williams, responding to a 911 call from within the store, shot and killed him. Now, Williams has been cleared of possible federal charges. “This investigation revealed that the evidence is insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Officer Williams violated federal civil rights laws,” said the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District Ohio in a statement.Huffington Post

What Pinterest is learning on its quest for greater diversity
Candice Morgan, the head of inclusion and diversity at Pinterest, has published a must-read assessment of the company’s most recent diversity efforts. While the company hit most (if not all) of its short-term goals, there were plenty of important takeaways for anyone who wants to create a more inclusive culture over time. Morgan offers a list of strategies, which include getting used to being uncomfortable, and course-correcting as you go. Her third point is of particular importance: contrary to myth, diversity doesn’t slow down the hiring process, it makes it more efficient. “Hiring from a diverse candidate pool has made us more thoughtful and deliberate about where we look for candidates, allowing us to look beyond the people that come to us via networks,” she writes.

If only there were brown people who could sing and dance…
Recently Disney announced it was having trouble casting a live-action remake of Aladdin, telling the Hollywood Reporter that “finding a male lead in his 20s who can act and sing has proven difficult — especially since the studio wants someone of Middle Eastern or Indian descent.” According to the company, director Guy Richie and the studio launched a global casting call in March, and some 2,000 actors have read for the two leads. And yet — Disney’s inability to find the next Aladdin doesn’t sit right with many folks. “If only there were a subcontinent, maybe with say, over a billion people, that also had a booming international film industry—one that was known for musicals!” says Anne Branigan. I know, right? Here’s hoping Guy Richie gets the Bollywood ending he so richly deserves.

What on earth is up with astronomers?
According to a new study published this week, women of color face more harassment than any other sub-group of astronomers. An online survey of 474 planetary scientists showed that 28% of the women of color who responded reported feeling unsafe in their workplace due to their race, and 40% reported feeling unsafe because of their gender. Women also reported skipping important opportunities, like field work, meetings or seminars, because they felt unsafe. This isn’t some ancient tale of woe, says anthropologist Kathryn Clancy who lead the study.”These are all current issues that women of color are facing right now. They’re feeling unsafe today. They’re skipping professional events today.”

The Woke Leader

Not that long ago, nobody expected black people to be able to read
Vernon Jordan is an extraordinary storyteller, as this very short video interlude makes clear. A civil rights lawyer most famous for his political work and ties to the Clinton presidency, he began his life in segregated Atlanta with limited prospects but big dreams. His mother got him a chauffeur job driving for Robert F. Maddox, the president of the First National Bank of Atlanta. In this tale, Jordan recalls enjoying driving around in Maddox’s 1940 La Salle, but also the look of astonishment when his boss woke up early from his post-lunch nap, only to find Jordan waiting for his next driving assignment in the man’s his vast library. “I’m sitting in his chair and in walks Mr. Maddox in his underwear with a bottle of bourbon in one hand, and a glass in the other,” recalls Jordan. “What are you doing in my library?” When Maddox learned that Jordan was reading, he said, “I’ve never had a nigger work for me who could read.” The story gets much, much better from there. Hat tip to Mike Spinney for the share.

An animated short film about identity, love and acceptance
If you have a spare 22 minutes, then consider watching this beautiful short film by Alex Myung. It’s the animated tale of a little boy, devoted to his mother, who grows into a gay man searching for love and meaning in NYC. There is no dialog, just gorgeous visuals and a terrific conceit – he begins to reveal himself to her one Polaroid at a time. The film was Kickstarter supported and is available in its entirety online. “Director and Animator Alex Myung set out to make a short animated film that reflected his life and experience as a gay man in NYC,” says the promotional material. “The characters in the film, while faced with a problem that is centric to those of the LGBT community, speaks to those who question any part of their identity and are afraid to confront it.” Enjoy.

A crime prediction tool for the 1%
The good people at The New Inquiry, an online cultural nonprofit magazine, have done the world a service by flipping the tables on predictive algorithms. Using industry standard predictive policing technologies typically used in communities of color, they’ve created an application that predicts and targets white collar crime of the high-tone financial variety. Click through for their white paper on the project and their handy mapping tool, White Collar Risk Zones. I was shocked (SHOCKED!) to discover that not a wingtip’s throw away from Fortune’s own HQ there is a high likelihood that executives are committing crimes like defamation, failure to supervise, breach of fiduciary duty, age discrimination, and various trading irregularities. Chilling.
The New Inquiry


But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. . . And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.