Urban America Likely to Avoid Replay of 1960s Cities Still Face Critical Task of Dealing with Social and Economic Problems, Analysts Say. LOS ANGELES AFTERMATH

By Scott Armstrong, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 4, 1992 | Go to article overview

Urban America Likely to Avoid Replay of 1960s Cities Still Face Critical Task of Dealing with Social and Economic Problems, Analysts Say. LOS ANGELES AFTERMATH


Scott Armstrong, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


OUTSIDE a looted grocery on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard here, an African-American wearing a shirt featuring a large "X" taunts National Guard troops sent to maintain order.

Embroidered on his sleeve are the words, "By any means necessary," the revolutionary epigram of Malcolm X, the black advocate slain in 1965. As passersby gather, the mood tightens.

By most readings, despite the spasms of anger ignited nationwide by the Rodney King verdict and worsening opportunity for a broadening underclass over three decades, America is not in for a reprise of "the long hot summers" of the 1960s.

"You will see short-lived activism similar to what came after the assassination of Martin Luther King {in 1968}," says William Julius Wilson, a sociologist at the University of Chicago. "But the formal structures are just not there for a sustained political movement."

At the peak of the social unrest in 1967 and 1968, there were riots in more than 100 US cities. A unifying issue, besides the general malaise over inner-city poverty and decay, was civil rights. Today, experts say, there is no similar theme to sustain a pattern of protest.

"I expect a lot of violence in the 1990s," says Gregg Carter, a sociologist at Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I. "But I don't think it is going to be 1967 all over again. It is going to be more individual, localized."

Local mechanisms to consolidate and channel grievances among blacks do not exist for the most part, experts say. Nor does the network of black leaders and highly visible militant organizations such as the once-active Black Panthers necessary to carry the protest banner.

"One of the great modern tragedies of black life is that they {blacks} have never been able to sufficiently organize," says Jewelle Gibbs, a University of California at Berkeley sociologist.

She sees a widening gap between the upper-middle-class blacks symbolized by "The Cosby Show" - which ironically left the air last week - and the growing ranks of disenfranchised featured in such films as "Boyz 'N the Hood," and "New Jack City."

Still, the seeds of general discontent exist today even more than 25 years ago. Economic conditions for minorities in inner cities are far worse, experts say. Many blame a decade of federal budget cuts. Many ghettos have lost what black middle class residents they had. There are more single-parent families and greater crime and drug-abuse problems.

Such economic and social conditions are a tinderbox waiting to flash, as seen from incidents such as Bensonhurst and Howard's Beach in New York, to L.A. Patterns reinforced

When such episodes flare, an inability to coalesce anger into substantive reform reinforces the patterns of riotous response and racial fear.

"If blacks want to take their grievances to the captains of industry and into the wealthy neighborhoods, they can't afford to stop at every electronics store along the way," notes Roger Lane, a black historian from Haverford College in Pennsylvania.

"They are too easily distracted with consumerism and their own anger. …

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Urban America Likely to Avoid Replay of 1960s Cities Still Face Critical Task of Dealing with Social and Economic Problems, Analysts Say. LOS ANGELES AFTERMATH
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