President Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner Commission called for improving police-community relations, but progress has been uneven. “We have not taken seriously the problem of race in America on a number of fronts, including policing,” says Phillip Atiba Goff of the Center for Policing Equity.
The rumor spread quickly: A man was beaten to death by police. For blacks — frustrated by high unemployment, inadequate schools, substandard housing — yet another abuse by police was too much to bear, and they erupted. There were no shouts that black lives mattered. This was Newark in 1967, long before deaths at the hands of police in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson gave birth to another movement in another era, reports the Associated Press. 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 $10 million in property damage, the riots left economic and emotional scars in a city that in many ways have not yet healed. Newark was one of 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 rioters spoke loudly, but were they heard?
The echoes of 1967 in today’s America would suggest they were not, in a new generation where racial tensions, indifference and inaction persist. President Lyndon Johnson’s Kerner Commission called for improving police-community relations, including a review of police operations to eliminate abrasive practices, more police protection to inner-city residents, more hiring and promotion of black officers and a way for residents to file complaints against the police. Nationally, there are now greater systems of accountability for police officers, who are the best trained generation of law enforcement officers in U.S. history, said Phillip Atiba Goff of the Center for Policing Equity at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Still, a lack of national metrics to track police behavior shows uneven progress. “What it says is that we have not taken seriously the problem of race in America on a number of fronts, including policing,” Goff said. “As a result, we’re doomed to repeat the history from which we have not learned.”