Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Killing Keith Lamont Scott: The Kerner Commission Report and the Charlotte Uprising

On Tuesday, another black man was shot and killed by America's out of control police. In Charlotte, 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott was sitting in his car when he was approached by an undercover police officer. He supposedly exited his vehicle with a gun in his hand. The police continued to assail him. Scott was then shot dead by officer Brentley Vinson. Like Scott, Vinson is also a black man. Keith Lamont Scott was sitting in his car waiting for his daughter. She would later record a video on Facebook where she expressed her grief and shock at the police killing of her father.

Keith Lamont Scott was innocent. He had committed no crime. North Carolina is an "open carry" state where the possession of a firearm is legal and is not supposed to be a death sentence. The facts are very much in dispute in the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott. Witnesses report that he was "armed" only with a book. The police say he was "armed and dangerous."

There were protests in Charlotte as denizens rebelled against another instance of police thuggery and violence. Police and protesters were injured. In all, this cycle of police thuggery and violence against people of color is a track stuck on repeat. Racial battle fatigue is real. What are we, black and brown and white people of conscience to do next?

There will be a tedious cycle of hand-wringing, talking heads bloviating on the TV, and "think pieces" that try to find something new to say about the state sponsored violence against non-whites that is a fixture of American society since before the Founding.

As I often say about these matters, ain't much new in the game. There is no need to invent a new solution, craft a new diagnosis, or to pretend that the problem of police violence and urban rebellions are at a all new. Read the Kerner Report. It was all detailed there almost fifty years ago. How much farther along would we be as a country if we followed its suggestions?


The summer of 1967 again brought racial disorders to American cities, and with them shock, fear and bewilderment to the nation.

The worst came during a two-week period in July, first in Newark and then in Detroit. Each set off a chain reaction in neighboring communities.

On July 28, 1967, the President of the United States established this Commission and directed us to answer three basic questions:

What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again?

To respond to these questions, we have undertaken a broad range of studies and investigations. We have visited the riot cities; we have heard many witnesses; we have sought the counsel of experts across the country.

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 ghetto1 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.

Our recommendations embrace three basic principles:

To mount programs on a scale equal to the dimension of the problems;

To aim these programs for high impact in the immediate future in order to close the gap between promise and performance;

To undertake new initiatives and experiments that can change the system of failure and frustration that now dominates the ghetto and weakens our society.

These programs will require unprecedented levels of funding and performance, but they neither probe deeper nor demand more than the problems which called them forth. There can be no higher priority for national action and no higher claim on the nation’s conscience.

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