We’ve been here before.
The riots in Ferguson, Mo., are the latest set off by racial tensions—but they are certainly not the first.
Decades may have passed, but the Ferguson riots look similar to these past events:
- The 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles that followed an incident between California Highway Patrol and a young black man initially pulled over for reckless driving;
- The 1968 riots in Washington, D.C., following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.;
- The 1992 riots in South Central Los Angeles following the acquittal of four white police officers accused of police brutality against a suspect, a black man named Rodney King.
The Watts riots lasted six days, at least 34 people lost their lives, more than 3,000 people were arrested and there was an estimated $40 million in property damage. Almost 30 years later, the 1992 riots in Los Angeles resulted in 53 people being killed and an estimated $1 billion in property damage. The 1968 riots in Washington also lasted six days, resulting in 12 deaths, over 6,000 arrests, more than 1,000 buildings being burned and approximately $175 million in property damage by today’s standards.
I live in the very neighborhood destroyed by the 1968 riots. What was once considered the “Harlem of DC”—an area regularly featuring artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, home to hundreds of black-owned businesses and less than two miles from the White House—was literally turned to rubble in a matter of days.
Today, it is considered one of the city’s most booming real estate markets—but that took over 30 years to happen, and its original residents and businesses are long gone.
Here we are again today in Ferguson. Though each incident has its own set of circumstances and occurred at a particular point in history, and was shaped by the culture and atmosphere of the time, they all share a similar foundation based on racial tension and a sense by those participating in the riots that justice is out of reach.
Without question the looting, property damage and violence is unacceptable. Everyone watching is right to question the point of it all and be both disgusted and saddened by the destruction and mayhem they see night after night on TV.
Yet, one of the the most tragic aspects of all is that so many of the politicians and self-appointed civil rights leaders calling for justice are themselves proponents of policies that oppress and keep down the very people they claim to be defending. These policies breed a victimhood mentality that sometimes plays itself out, wrongly, in the kind of behavior we’re seeing in Ferguson.
The truth is, as President Obama said in his remarks the night of the verdict, we have come a long way in terms of race relations, as his own election shows. But what could not have been clearer as one watched the split screen of the president speaking from the White House, juxtaposed with pictures showing the rioting in Ferguson, was that many blacks there and elsewhere don’t believe they have the same opportunities Obama has had.
And many don’t—due in large part to some of the policies he and others on the left support.
The oft-chanted slogan “No Justice, No Peace” reflects only one part of the story.
There is no justice in trapping children in poor-performing public schools. Yet instead of supporting school choice measures that would benefit those in lower-income and urban areas the most, the left says no.
There is no justice in supporting government welfare programs that make it easier and more profitable to sit home than work, that discourage marriage and encourage single parenting—thereby destroying one of the most important foundations of any community, stable families—yet liberal public policies have and continue to do these very things.
Those rioting in Ferguson, as before in Watts and Washington in the 1960s, aren’t just upset about what they see as an unfair criminal justice system. That may be the spark that sets off the fire, but simmering underneath is a lack of hope that life can be better and a belief that the opportunities of America belong to them, too.
There will always be people who are looking for an excuse to cause trouble. Feeling disenfranchised gives no one the right to riot. But unless all those who say they want to bring healing are willing to address the day-to-day injustices, not just the made-for-television run-ins with the police, we’ll be here again.