Only Light Can Drive out Darkness

By Charles V. Willie. Charles V. Willie, a. sociologist, is professor of education and urban studies Education, Harvard University. | The Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 1992 | Go to article overview

Only Light Can Drive out Darkness


Charles V. Willie. Charles V. Willie, a. sociologist, is professor of education and urban studies Education, Harvard University., The Christian Science Monitor


IT is easy to deplore violence. That the mayor of Los Angeles, the governor of California, and the president of the United States have done. It is more difficult to make a proper diagnosis of the causes of violence and to prescribe appropriate solutions.

After overcoming lesser physical force with superior physical force, we turn our attention to other matters and then wonder why history repeats itself. Nearly one generation ago, there was death and destruction in Los Angeles due to riots in Watts. Now the riots have returned with more deaths than occurred in the past.

In the 1960s, the Gallup organization sent pollsters into black and white communities to discover how to prevent civil disorder. Whites told the pollsters that better law enforcement would stamp out violence. Blacks said that more and better jobs would prevent riots. Even though riots tend to begin in center-city ghettos, the nation ignored the solution proposed by blacks.

The poll results were published in 1967. Early in 1968, President Johnson asked the Office of Economic Opportunity to reserve only half as much money for emergency summer operations as Congress had appropriated the previous year.

That summer unemployed black and brown youths demonstrated at New York's City Hall demanding summer jobs. The mayor said the unruly behavior of the demonstrators was a disgrace. Nevertheless, he dug into the city's "empty purse" and came up with enough money to finance 10,000 more jobs for young people in poor families. The poor had to force their priorities upon a nation that ignored a poll it did not wish to hear.

We know that the nation was aware of the poll findings because funds were appropriated to teach the National Guard and the Army better riot-control techniques. Thus, our federal government ignored prescriptions offered by racial and ethnic minorities and implemented the priority of the white majority. Pandering to the priorities of whites was of short-term benefit, because less than a generation later we are confronted in 1992 with another major riot and a larger death toll.

This time, the blacks said that they were angry because a member of their race was brutally beaten by four policemen who were acquitted as if they had done nothing wrong. Blacks believe one reason the police officers were acquitted was that no blacks were on the jury. The trial was moved from Los Angeles to a community where only 2 percent of the population is African-American. The jury consisted of one Asian-American, one Latino, and the rest whites, although the victim was black.

In his May 1 address to the nation, President Bush said he had sent to Los Angeles 1,000 law enforcement officers trained in riot control and 4,000 soldiers. But Mr. Bush did not propose any public-policy initiatives to guarantee diversity on juries that try cases in which the parties are of different racial groups.

WE have ignored and even rejected the requirement for diversity in the decisionmaking groups in our society too long, and now are experiencing the evil consequences of this practice. …

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