What is a major league baseball game without any fans there to cheer? No one selling hot dogs, no one hawking programs, no need for any ushers. Welcome to Baltimore, where the first two games of a three-game series were postponed and the third was played with no people, lest what should be a sporting event degenerate into a race riot.
And so, in the spring of 2015, we add Baltimore to the list that seems to have started with George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch killer, and then the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, with police on watch across the country.
I was a kid in the summer of 1968, but I remember sitting in front of the television, literally shocked that my country seemed to be on fire on hot nights. But that was 1968.
I remember pulling down all the shades in my house, as they told us to on television, and huddling with my 2-year-old baby as we complied with the curfews that were imposed after the Rodney King riots. But that was 1992.
How can this be happening now? We have an African-American president, we had African-American attorney general, now succeeded by the first African-American woman attorney general, not to mention an African-American head of Homeland Security. And yet, the level of suspicion and distrust, the huge perception gaps between blacks and whites, the fear you can almost feel and touch making clear that race relations, so perfect at the top when we see our magnificent "First Couple", have hardly changed for the less fortunate.
And there is the rub. The rich have gotten richer. The poor have not. White boys with clever ideas parade on television talking about the billions they have made. Sometimes it even rubs me wrong, and who am I to complain?
How would I feel if I were a boy that same age, who never had the chance to make a legal dollar from a decent job, let alone billions based on skills they don't teach in lousy inner-city public schools. Probably very angry, I would guess. My son has been on the computer since nursery school. How many of the young men in the back of police cars had that opportunity? Technology, which so many of us hoped would bring us together and provide access to learning and information that so many lack, has created a gap of its own.
In 1968, police departments were overwhelmingly white, and those who were arrested were disproportionately black. Many of these departments were sued, and rightly so, for arresting ministers and the church handyman and even the almost all-white high school's star black quarterback. Courts ordered reforms, new tests, goals; police departments today are significantly more diverse than they were 40 years ago. Community policing, which was popularized in the 1980s, is just a fancy way of saying that the police were supposed to work hand-in-hand with the community — not only to reflect the community demographically, but to know the difference between the star quarterback and a drug dealer from the other side of town. They don't look alike.
It reminds me of a lesson I learned from the honorable Harry Edwards, now a senior judge on the Court of Appeals in Washington, but back in the '80s, a visiting professor at Harvard. "How do you like it here?" I remember asking him. He sighed. Boston in the '80s was still reeling from the ugly failure of busing to achieve integration. "At Fenway Park," he said sadly, "they don't know that you teach at Harvard."
No. And as one mother explained to me, when white kids wear "street clothes", no one thinks they're gang members. Not so for her son. She dressed him like a white preppy kid, not because she favored the style, but because she hoped it would be safer.
The last thing we need is a summer of racial violence. If you can't remember the summer of 1968, take it from me. Barack Obama ran on "change". It is proving to be harder than any of us once thought.
(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)
- Category: Columns
- Hits: 517