A Further Perspective

From Kent State to Ferguson

The social justice and racism racket never ends.

By 8.19.14

White House Photo Office
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Ah, social justice. Here we go again—and it is again. Consider these words:

The first issue is the unfilled promise of full justice and dignity for Blacks and other minorities. Blacks, like many others of different races and ethnic origins, are demanding today that the pledges of the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation be fulfilled now. Full social justice and dignity—an end to racism in all its human, social and cultural forms—is a central demand of today’s students—black, brown, and white.

This might sound like something coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, right now. But in fact I have just quoted the preface to a report by the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest issued in September, 1970 following the shooting of four white students at Ohio’s Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard on May 4. The Kent State shootings were followed in turn eleven days later by the police killing of two students, both black, at Mississippi’s Jackson State.

President Richard Nixon appointed the commission in the wake of a wave of violence that followed Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia in April of that year as part of his effort to end the Vietnam War. College campuses erupted in chaos all over the country, as in fact they had been doing with increasing frequency throughout the past decade. Nixon’s televised announcement on Cambodia came on the night of April 30. The rage set in minutes after he went off the air. The commission would later recount the story, reporting that on May 2, a mere two days after Nixon’s speech:

The ROTC building at Kent State was set afire. On May 4, Kent State students congregated  on the university Commons and defied an order by the Guard to disperse. Guardsmen proceeded to disperse the crowd. The students then began to taunt Guard units and to throw rocks. The guardsmen fired tear gas into the crowd, and then some fired their weapons. Four students were killed, and nine were wounded. 

The Commission's report goes on to say that:

[In the] six days after the President’s announcement of the Cambodian incursion, but prior to the deaths at Kent State, some twenty new student strikes had begun each day. During the four days that followed the Kent killings, there were a hundred or more strikes each day. A student strike center located at Brandeis University reported that, by the 10th of May, 448 were either still affected by some sort of strike or completely closed down. Ten days after the events at Kent State there were disturbances at Jackson State College, a black school in Jackson, Mississippi. On the night of May 14, students threw bricks and bottles at passing white motorists, a truck was set ablaze, and city and state police, called to protect firemen, were harassed by the crowd. Some policemen fired a fusillade into a girls’ dormitory. Two Blacks were killed, and at least twelve were wounded. 

The Commission report notes that “nearly one third of the approximately 2,500 colleges and universities in America had experienced some kind of protest activity.”  As the summer was coming to an end, “the University of Wisconsin’s mathematics research center at Madison was destroyed by a bomb. A researcher was killed, and four other people were injured.”

The more things change the more they remain the same. The American left has not changed. Those that are in Ferguson today rioting and looting in the name of social justice—the New Black Panthers are on the scene demanding death for the policeman involved—are merely the descendants of all those kids from 1970. And let it be noted that the vast majority of those kids in 1970 were white middle-class kids who launched a wave of violence in the spring and summer of 1970 because they objected to American foreign policy. Say again, American foreign policy.

Consider two other recent incidents involving police shootings. Cameron Redus, described in this account of his death as a “star student” at the University of the Incarnate Word (a Catholic university in San Antonio, Texas), was shot five times by the police—once in the back. James Whitehead, a Marine Corps veteran killed in 2010 in Orange, Texas, shot as he sat in his pickup truck after a parking lot altercation—by an off-duty black cop. Where were all the media cameras? Where was Al Sharpton? Where was the president? Why no riots? Why didn’t the governor feel the need to call in the National Guard? Is it because both victims were white? And therefore didn’t fit the social justice racial template?

What is at work in Ferguson—as it was at work back there in 1970 with those anti-war protests—is the leftist mindset that violence is always a useful tool in the name of so-called “social justice.” Social justice isn’t about “justice”; much less is it about racism. It’s about left-wingism.

But in 1970 the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest couldn’t muster the political will to call out all those social justice demands from the kids. So, the sober-minded and politically correct group delivered to Nixon in September of 1970 this 500-plus page report filled with all these soberly delivered words about the “unfilled promise” of justice and how the need for “full social justice and dignity—an end to racism in all its human, social and cultural forms—is a central demand of today’s students—black, brown, and white.”

And forty-four years later? How has this worked out? Nothing has changed. In spite of four years of the Jimmy Carter presidency, eight years of the Clinton presidency, and six years of the Obama presidency, things are grim. America is somehow full of social injustice and racism. How can this be?

As has been noted in different contexts, there is that famous Eric Hoffer quote: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” And as that long ago report that was nominally on “campus unrest” but had “social justice” and “racism” as its subtext, somehow the first is not to be found and the latter is everywhere.

Over at the New York Post, the Hoover Institution’s Paul Sperry has zeroed in exactly on the racism racket being run by the Obama administration's social justice liberals.  Under the headline “Why the Obama administration sees racism everywhere,” Sperry notes:

Attorney General Eric Holder’s race-baiting is no secret. Justice Department documents show the nation’s top cop gave thousands of dollars to help the Rev. Al Sharpton organize marches protesting the death of Trayvon Martin. Now he’s sent the civil-rights unit to St. Louis to do the same thing in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

So far, so normal for Holder. But Sperry goes on to note that Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez has been playing the same race-baiting game. Sperry writes:

Last month, for instance, Perez told hundreds of black students in Washington, DC, that school authorities in the South recently had black high-schoolers arrested for infractions as innocuous as fashion faux pas and farting.

Say what? Yes, you read that right. The only problem? Perez was “making it up.” That’s right. When Sperry looked into this he found:

Meridian Public School District students have never been jailed simply for breaking school dress code, as he implied. That would be false imprisonment. They have, however, been mildly disciplined for wearing the wrong uniform to school. Meridian, which is mostly black, has a strict dress code to prevent gang violence. And some students do wear ankle bracelets to school—but only because they broke actual laws and were convicted of crimes by a juvenile judge. Perez conflated the circumstances, even though he knew better.

And there was one other thing Perez failed to mention: “the Meridian school superintendent, Dr. Alvin Taylor, and four of the five Meridian school board members are all black. So is the judge running the juvenile court.” In other words, there were no white racist Bull Connors loose in these positions of authority.

So why do this? Why in the world would two members of the president's cabinet be playing this game?

There is a reason—and as discussed in this space many times—it is a very simple and very old reason. The Democratic Party needs race to win elections. This is how they won the so-called “Solid South” for decades. This is how they get 90-plus percent of the black vote. This is how they intend to permanently get the same voting percentages from Hispanics, which is exactly why illegal immigration is encouraged. Race-hustling plus the politics of envy equals political victory.

What progressives want is an America permanently divided by race. Colorblind equality is not on the agenda. There must always be a demand for “social justice” and charges of “racism” because without those demands, progressivism is a political dead duck. Not to mention that if the utopia that “social justice” and an “end to racism” were achieved too many people would lose opportunities for violence, fame and money.

Forty-four years ago, the shootings of six rioting students at Kent State and Jackson State—four white, two black—were the cause of demands for “social justice” and an “end to racism.” Today, it’s a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

Some things never change. Nor will they ever change, and for a reason.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.