In 1970, Edward Banfield's The Unheavenly City described the causes of rioting in ways that were condemned by the pro-riot Left at the time, and are still being condemned.
There are versions of Banfield's text online, although the one linked to in the Roosevelt Institute piece quoted by Steve Sailer above is an unreadable PDF. Below is Chapter 9 of the original "The Unheavenly City" as Banfield wrote it, with footnotes. I've added a few links. (I'm posting this as a public service. If Banfield's literary executors, assuming there are any, feel it goes beyond Fair Use, they can email me, but please remember that there are nationwide riots—not protests—happening now, and policymakers need to know this stuff.)
Rioting Mainly for Fun and Profit
“Picketing and marching ain’t getting us anywhere, man,” said Byron Washington, a 16-year-old nth-grader who was arrested during this week’s riots for having a rock in his hand.
“The whites got to face it, man, this is a new generation. We aren’t going to stand for the stuff our mamas and fathers stood for.
“Look at me, I’ve got a B average, but I can’t get a summer job. And if you don’t work, you can’t afford to go to college.”
— New York Times report from Waterloo, Iowa, July 14, 1967
In the law of most states a riot is a lawless act engaged in by three or more persons and accompanied by violence or breach of the public peace. If the rioters are Negroes it is usually taken for granted that the riot is in some sense racial. Probably the most widespread view is that Negroes riot because they can no longer contain their pent-up fury at the mistreatment they receive from whites. The Watts riot, we are told “was a manifestation of a general sense of deep outrage, outrage at every aspect of the lives Negroes are forced to live, outrage at every element of the white community for forcing (or permitting) Negroes to live such lives.”1 On this view it follows that the way to end rioting—the only way to end it—is to stop mistreating the Negro and, so far as possible, to repair the damage already done him. “Doing such things as punishing police misconduct, providing decent housing and schooling, ending job discrimination and so forth are essential, but the problem goes deeper than that. The ghetto itself, with all the shameful economic, social, political, and psychological deprivation it causes, must be done away with once and for all. The riots have ‘let America know’ that this is what must be done. Now America must do it.”2
This is not the view that will be taken here. The assumption that if Negroes riot it must be because they are Negroes is naive. If one rejects this as a starting place and looks at the facts instead, one sees that race (and, incidentally, poverty as well) was not the cause of any of the Negro riots and that it had very little to do with many of the lesser ones. Indeed, it is probably not too much to say that some of the riots would have occurred even if (other things being the same) the people in the riot areas had all been white and even if they had all had incomes above the poverty line. The implication of this view is, of course, that punishing police misconduct, providing decent housing, and so on will not significantly affect the amount of Negro rioting. The causes of rioting, it will be argued, will continue to operate for another twenty years or so no matter what is done. But although more and possibly worse riots are to be expected, rioting will not destroy the cities. Dr. Kenneth B. Clark’s warning that “The dark ghettoes now represent a nuclear stock-pile which can annihilate the very foundations of America,”3 need not be taken very seriously if his metaphors refer to rioting of the sort that has occurred in recent years.
To that strict behaviorist, the man on the moon, all four of these events probably look alike: all are “riots” and, if the rioters are negro, presumably “racial.”
But to an observer able and willing to take motives into account (that is, to take note of the meaning of an act to the actor) the events are very different and some are not in any sense racial. The first is a rampage by frustrated teen-agers who happen to be black. The second is a foray for pillage by young toughs who find “taking” things the easiest way of getting them. In this case, too, race is not a motive and is in fact irrelevant to behavior: the toughs are Negro, but they could as well be white. The third event is an outburst of righteous indignation on the part of people who have witnessed what they think is an act of gross injustice. The young man who was killed was black and the policeman who killed him was white, but it is possible that the indignation the crowd feels is mainly or even entirely against the police rather than against whites as such. (In September 1962, Negroes in the all-Negro village of Kinloch, Missouri, rioted when a Negro policeman shot a Negro youth.) Indeed, some members of the crowd may be indignant at whites, others at the police, and still others at both whites and the police, and so it might be impossible to say whether or not the riot was “mainly racial,” even if one had full knowledge of the subjective states of all rioters. In the final case, the event is a demonstration carried on for the express purpose of calling attention to a political position; since the position is a racist one, the riot can easily be called racial.
Each of these four motivations implies a corresponding type of riot. (This is not to say that a certain type of riot is caused by a certain type of motive; as will be explained later, it is more useful to look elsewhere for causes.) The four types are as follows:
The rampage. This is an outbreak of animal—usually young, male animal—spirits. Young men are naturally restless, in search of excitement, thrills, “action.” Also, as David Matza has explained, they are apt to feel “pushed around”; one who is caught in this mood of fatalism (as Matza calls it) wants dramatic reassurance that he can “make things happen,” and breaking the law is one of the few actions open to him that immediately and demonstrably makes things happen.4 Rioting (which Matza does not mention) is a way of making them happen on a wholesale scale. “These young people, to whom a voter registration campaign, a picket line, or an economic boycott mean very little, have found that they can stun an entire community by engaging in rioting. They can mobilize entire police forces and National Guard companies, keep mayors at their desks through the night, and bring representatives of the news media from all over the country.”5
A rampage may start either with an incident—for example, an argument or an arrest—or “out of the blue.” If it starts with an incident, the incident is more in the nature of a pretext than (as in a riot of the outburst of indignation type) a provocation; that is, the rampage begins not because the incident made the rampagers angry (although they may pretend that) but because they were looking for an excuse (signal?) to rampage. There is no pattern to the violence once it starts: it involves destruction for the sake of destruction and fighting for the sake of fighting. The police are frequently attacked by rampagers; this is not because they are hated (although they may be) but because they are at hand and will put up a good fight. Rampaging by teen-agers has always been a problem in the cities. From the very earliest times, harassing the watch, vandalism, and arson have been favorite pastimes of the young.6 In Pittsburgh in 1809 an editor proposed satirically that the city establish a “conflagration fund” from which to buy twelve houses, one to be burned each month in a civil celebration.7 Until the middle of the last century fire companies in the large cities were manned by volunteers, mostly boys and young men, and were in many cases what today would be called conflict gangs. Whether they put out more fires than they started is a question. In Philadelphia, for example, firemen used to riot almost every Sunday, using bricks, stones, and firearms, apparently with intent to kill.8 In the slums of the large cities there were also street gangs, some claiming more than a thousand members, which fought each other and the police almost constantly.9 Usually the authorities did not try very hard to interfere with these activities, which were regarded as in the nature of sporting events.10
Youth rampages occur today not only in the slums but elsewhere. Thousands of college boys rioted at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, and at Seaside, Oregon, in 1964, the year the inner-city riots began, and there have been large rampages of white boys on the Sunset Strip of Los Angeles, in Atlantic City, and elsewhere since. It is not only American boys who behave this way, but boys almost everywhere. In Stockholm, for example, hordes of teen-agers hang around the subway stations committing acts of vandalism and harassing the police. “The police say that if a constable has to arrest a drunk who is disturbing the peace, the youngsters will often set upon the policeman, and a major riot looms before reinforcements can be called.”11 Probably many of the student “political demonstrations” reported in this and other countries are actually rampages.
In the upper classes the norms of culture tend to restrain the restlessness of youth and to encourage its sublimation. In the lower classes, on the other hand, cultural norms reinforce feelings of restlessness and the “mood of fatalism.” Accordingly, lower-class youths are more apt than others to be caught up in frenzies of mob activity, and even adults of the lower class are, by comparison with those of the other classes, highly susceptible to the same influences.
The foray for pillage. Here the motive is theft, and here also boys and young adults of the lower class are the principal offenders. Stealing is ordinarily most conveniently done in private, of course, but when disasters—earthquakes, fires, floods, power failures, blizzards, enemy invasions, police strikes—interrupt law enforcement it may be done as well or better in public. On these occasions, when “Everyone is doing it” and “If I don’t take the stuff it will just go to waste,” upper-working- and middle-class adults who, under normal circumstances, would not steal, are likely to join the looters. (In 1711 the selectmen of Boston passed an act to punish persons “taking advantage of such confusion and calamities [as fire] to rob, plunder, embezzle, convey away and conceal the goods and effects of their distressed neighbours.”12) From the standpoint of the youth or of the lower-class adult who makes a practice of stealing, it would be convenient to have a riot every day. Riots are seldom started by thieves merely to facilitate stealing, however. One reason is that the culture of the lower class renders it incapable of the planning and organization that would ordinarily be necessary to start a riot by design. Another and perhaps more important one is that although all thieves would benefit from a riot, no one thief would benefit enough from it to justify his taking the trouble and running the risks of starting it. (As an economist would put it, the riot is, from the standpoint of the thieves, a “collective good.”)13 But if thieves rarely start riots, they are always quick to join ones that are under way, and their presence in sufficient number may transform one from, say, a rampage to a foray for pillage. “I really know of no instance of a riot occurring in New York, or in any other large city, during which robbery did not play a prominent part,” New York’s Police Chief Walling wrote toward the end of the last century.14
The outburst of righteous indignation. Here the rioters are moved by indignation at what they regard, rightly or wrongly, as injustice or violation of the mores that is likely to go unpunished. Their indignation is partly at the wrongfulness of the act and partly at the wrongfulness of its going unpunished. A riot of this type is always spontaneous—people do not become indignant according to plan. Indignation is aroused by an incident of some sort (which may, of course, have been contrived by someone for the purpose), and in the nature of the case, the indignant people are without leaders. The incident itself may help to make up for this lack by serving a coordinating function; as Thomas C. Schelling has pointed out, “Without something like an incident, it may be difficult to get action at all, since immunity requires that all know when to act together.”15
A righteously indignant mob usually consists mainly of working- class people. The lower-class individual is too alienated to be capable of much indignation, especially in a matter that he thinks does not affect him personally and directly; middle- and upper-class people are usually confident of their ability to get wrongs righted by making appeals through proper channels, and, besides, they abhor violence. The working class is not under any of these limitations: it has a capacity for righteous indignation, distrusts lawyers, public relations people, and “channels” generally, and does not greatly mind—indeed, sometimes very much enjoys—a good brawl and the spilling of some blood.
Under favorable circumstances, that is, where the working class is large and consists of people who have enough in common so that they will respond with indignation to the same provocation, an outburst of righteous indignation may involve a great many people—far more, certainly, than a rampage or a foray, both of which by their nature ordinarily draw upon relatively small “constituencies.” All the large riots of the nineteenth century were mainly outbursts of righteous indignation. Some of them were very large indeed. For example, the Boston riot of 1837 (a native-American working-class attack on Irish immigrants) is supposed to have involved more than 15,000 persons, roughly one-sixth of the city’s population.
In an outburst of righteous indignation the pattern of violence and destruction reflects the mob’s wish to end, and also to redress or avenge, the wrong that aroused its indignation. As Rude says in his account of popular disturbances in preindustrial France and England, the mob imposes a conception of “natural justice”: “Strikers tended to destroy machinery or ‘pull down’ their employers’ houses; food rioters to invade markets and bakers’ shops and enforce a popular price control or taxation populaire; rural rioters to destroy fences and turnpikes or threshing machines and workhouses, or to set fire to the farmer’s or landlord’s stacks; and city rioters to ‘pull down’ dissenters’ meeting houses and chapels, to destroy their victims’ houses and property, and to burn their political enemies in effigy.”16
The demonstration. Here the motive is to advance a political principle or ideology or to contribute to the maintenance of an organization. The riot is not a spontaneous, angry response to an incident. Rather, it is the result of prearrangement by persons who are organized, have leaders, and who see it as a means to some end. The word “demonstration” is descriptive, for the event is a kind of show staged to influence opinion. Those who put it on are usually middle or upper class, these being the classes from which the people who run organizations and espouse political causes are mostly drawn. Demonstrations characteristically involve breach of the public peace rather than violence (if they involve neither they are by definition not riots); the middle- and upper-class cultural style favors the use of mock violence (for example, the spraying of slogans with paint and the throwing of steer’s blood), “happenings” (for example, halting traffic with police whistles), and behavior calculated to make the demonstrator the object, or the apparent object, of violence inflicted either by himself (as when he chains himself to something) or by the authorities (as when he “goes limp”). The middle and upper classes’ abhorrence of violence is so great that techniques like these, which trade upon it without requiring the demonstrator to hurt anyone but himself (and usually not himself either), are often effective as a means of putting “the other side” at a moral disadvantage in the eyes of the middle- and upper- class television viewers for whose benefit the demonstration is staged.
These four types of riots are presented as analytical models. Some concrete riots very closely approximate a “pure” type, but most riots—and probably all large ones—are compounds of two or more of the types. The New York Draft Riot of 1863, for example, was a compound of at least three. It was a rampage of young toughs from the slums (three-fourths of those actively engaged in violence were boys and men under twenty years of age who were not subject to the draft, a Times writer estimated; it was a foray for pillage (houses and places of business were ransacked all along Eleventh Avenue); and it was also—and perhaps mainly—an outburst of righteous indignation on the part of the Irish working class at the prospect of having to compete with freed Negroes for jobs and against the alleged injustices of the draft law.17 Large riots tend to be compound, if for no other reason, simply because they attract looters. But it is likely that the fact of their being compound also tends to make them larger: that is, that interaction among types of rioters tends to reinforce the motives and heighten the activity of each type. For example, the looters and rampagers in the Draft Riot no doubt got some moral support from having all about them rioters motivated by righteous indignation; at the same time, the presence of the looters and rampagers, most of whom were not clearly identifiable as such, must have added to the general sense of confusion and frenzy and by so doing must have helped sustain the fury of the righteously indignant. That these latter had two objects of indignation—Negroes and the draft law—must also have increased the interaction. One may conjecture that the greater the variety of motivational elements appealed to, the larger the number of rioters who will be recruited and—what is more important—the more interaction tending to sustain and escalate the riot there will be among the rioters.
Looking from this perspective at the recent series of inner-city riots, one is struck by the fact that for twenty years prior to July 18, 1964, there had been very few riots by Negroes, and that these few, with only one exception, had been protests against racial injustice. In 1961, for example, white mobs in six cities attacked Negroes, but there were no riots by Negroes. In 1962 there were four Negro riots—one was a demonstration by Black Muslims, two seem to have been outbursts of righteous indignation provoked by incidents of alleged police brutality, and the fourth, the exception, was a rampage by high school students after a football game in the District of Columbia stadium. In 1963 and the first half of 1964 there were eleven Negro riots, all apparently outbursts of righteous indignation and all but three occurring in the South. In none of these years was there a major Negro riot—one involving several hundred rioters and lasting more than a day.18
On July 18, 1964, a riot began in Harlem that proved to be a turning point. Two days before, an off-duty white police lieutenant had shot and killed a fifteen-year-old Negro youth whom he said had attacked him with a knife. The incident created widespread anger, and there was a protest march on the precinct police station the next day. The following evening (July 18) a second group of marchers refused to disperse; instead, it began throwing bottles and stones at the police station and was soon joined in this by a band of black nationalists who had been meeting nearby. The riot, which lasted in Harlem for three days, spread to the Bedford-Stuyvesant district of Brooklyn and six days later, for no apparent reason, to Rochester.19 (The incident—an attempt by a policeman to arrest a drunk and disorderly adolescent at a street dance—seems to have been a pretext rather than a provocation.) A few days later the rioting spread, also for no apparent reason, to three New Jersey cities, an industrial suburb of Chicago, and Philadelphia.
In Harlem, when it first broke out, the rioting was mainly an outburst of righteous indignation at the police. There was little looting; the mob was chiefly occupied in bitter fighting with the police. As the rioting continued and moved to other cities, however, its nature changed. Looting and rock throwing became the mob’s principal activities, with attacks on the police sporadic and incidental. In Rochester, the city manager said later, the riot had “racial overtones” but was not actually a race riot.20 In Philadelphia, the first policeman attacked was a Negro. Nowhere did a Negro mob invade a white neighborhood or assault whites as such.
Opinion leaders and publicists did not at this time see the riots as manifestations of deep unrest or anger on the part of Negroes. At the end of the summer, J. Edgar Hoover, whose views were probably close to one end of the spectrum, reported to the President that although racial tensions had been a factor, none of the disorders—not even the Harlem one—was a race riot in the accepted meaning of the term (that is, race against race); they were, he said, “purposeless attacks” in which youths were responsible for most of the violence, and he classed them with the college-boy riots that occurred about the same time.21 Others made similar assessments. Most civil rights leaders dismissed the idea that the riots were conscious protests; that was not merely an after-the-fact rationalization, Kenneth B. Clark said, it was an “independent of the fact” one.22 Bayard Rustin was applauded by an audience of New York planners when he explained that the violence was caused by “merely a few confused Negro boys throwing stones in windows or a Molotov cocktail at a cop who was perfectly capable of ducking.”23 The police commissioner of New York said in effect that they were rampages and forays. “They riot either out of sheer cussedness or for criminal reasons, and in some instances because mob action seems to be taking on the aspects of a fad. . . . Bedevil the police, strip stores, shout and yell, crush anyone who opposes you . . . and if the police try to stop it, just yell ‘brutality.’ This is the pattern. . . .”24
The view that riots did not manifest feelings of outrage widespread among Negroes was consistent with the findings of an elaborate survey of Negro opinion made late in 1964 by Gary T. Marx. It showed that most Negroes were neither sunk in hopelessness nor consumed with anger. Only about a third were in any sense militant, and the proportion of Negroes who were strongly antiwhite was much smaller. Most thought that things were getting better for the Negro (81 percent of a sample in non-Southern metropolitan areas thought this), that America was worth fighting for (87 percent), that a day would come when whites would fully accept Negroes (70 percent), and that the police treated Negroes either fairly well or very well (59 percent). “The overwhelming majority of those questioned,” Marx concluded, “felt that progress is being made and that integration is being pushed by the government at the right speed and were optimistic about the future.”25 That most Negroes held these opinions does not necessarily mean that the rioters held them, of course; in fact, however, there is some reason to suppose that most of them did.26
The 1964 riot pattern was repeated the following August in the Watts district of Los Angeles. This area was not a slum in the usual sense (it was an area of single-family, detached houses, most of which were in good condition), and Los Angeles was a city in which the Negro fared better than in most places (the Urban League rated it first among sixty-eight cities on the basis of a “statistical portrait” drawn in 1964). In this case, too, the incident that supposedly set off the riot could hardly have aroused a great deal of righteous indignation (a drunken Negro motorist had been arrested in what seems to have been a proper manner). Apparently, the incident was mainly important as a pretext for a rampage by teen-age Negro boys and young men who began throwing whiskey and beer bottles and pieces of asphalt and cement at motorists on Avalon Boulevard.27 Two hours after the incident the mob, which then numbered about fifteen hundred, consisted mostly of these boys and young men. There was nothing “racial” about what they were doing. “One thing that impressed me was that these Negroes who were hurling stones were throwing them right into their own people. That’s why I believe this didn’t start out to be a race riot. These were just young hoodlums working off their frustrations. They were out to do destruction. They just wanted to hurt anybody, black or white.”28
The statistics on arrests at Watts provide some slight basis for inferences about the motives of the rioters. About 15 percent of those arrested were juveniles. (The percentage would have been much higher, it has been suggested, were it not for the fact that the police, being short-handed, arrested the people who were easiest to catch.) Of the 3,438 adults arrested, nearly one-third had been convicted of major crimes (that is, crimes for which they had received sentences of more than ninety days) and fully one-third had minor records (that is, arrest or conviction with a sentence of ninety days or less).29 Since the police may be quicker to arrest Negroes than whites, it is hard to say what significance should be attached to the proportion having minor records. It is more noteworthy that one-third had never been arrested.
Although the Watts riot followed the pattern that had been set the year before, Negro spokesmen at once proclaimed that it was politically motivated—it was, they insisted, a revolt, not a riot. Bayard Rustin wrote that it was carried on for an “express purpose” and was “the first major rebellion.”30 No one gave a very clear or convincing account of what the rioters were revolting against, however. The facts did not support the view that they were expressing hatred for the white man; even Rustin said the rebellion was against the Negro’s “own masochism.” Nor did the facts support very well the view that the rioters were asserting that (in Rustin’s words) they “would no longer quietly submit to the deprivation of slum life”; after all, most Watts people lived comfortably in fairly good housing. It was somewhat more plausible to claim that they were angry about mistreatment by the police, but even this view did not fit the facts entirely, for the rioters had shown themselves more interested in burning and looting than in fighting the police.
However unjustifiably, Watts was regarded by many Negroes as something to be proud of—a kind of black Bunker Hill. This definition tended to make the rioting of the year before appear in retrospect as a kind of black Concord and Lexington and to establish a moral basis for any battles that might yet be fought in a black revolution. As one would expect, the frequency of rioting increased after Watts. In 1966, there were eleven major (that is, two-day or more) and thirty-two minor riots, and in 1967 there were twenty- five major and thirty minor riots. In most instances, the rioting began either without any precipitating incident, boys and young men simply smashing windows, starting fires, and assaulting passers-by for no apparent reason, or with an incident that was a pretext rather than a provocation. Only two of the major riots in 1966 (those in Jacksonville, Florida, and San Francisco) seem to have started from a provocation and only eight (six of which were in Southern cities) of those in 1967 seem to have started from provocations.
The Detroit riot of 1967, although vastly more destructive, was in many ways typical. Like Los Angeles, Detroit was a city of relative prosperity and opportunity for the Negro; it had no real “ghetto” and its police had for several years been under very enlightened and determined leadership. The incident with which the riot started seems to have been a pretext rather than a provocation: when the police raided a speakeasy early one Sunday morning, a crowd began pelting the policemen with stones. This might not have led to a riot were it not for the fact that at that particular time very few policemen could be mustered. (Early Sunday morning was a “low crime” period and the stronger daytime shift was not scheduled to report for duty at precinct stations until 8 a.m.) For several critical hours the police were conspicuous by their absence. It was well known, too, that the police would not use their guns except in the most extreme circumstances. For five or six hours after the speakeasy raid Negroes and whites mingled on the streets and looted amicably side by side. On the second day of the riot Governor Romney said that it was “not primarily a civil rights disturbance but rather lawlessness and hoodlumism by Negroes and whites,” an opinion with which Mayor Cavanagh agreed.31 Almost all the arrests made were for looting, and of those arrested nearly half were aged nineteen through twenty-four. The pattern of destruction was what one would expect in a foray for pillage. Stores having things that could be consumed directly—liquor, cigarettes, drugs, clothing, television sets, appliances, furniture—were looted no matter who owned them. Stores having things that would have to be “fenced”—jewelry—were usually left untouched, as were all buildings symbolic of the “white power structure”—banks, public offices, and schools. As one of the rioters, a child, explained, “There was nothing to steal in the school. Who wants a book or a desk?”32
It would appear, then, that what requires explanation is not so much rebellion by Negroes (whether against the whites, the slum, their “own masochism,” the police, or something else) as it is outbreaks of animal spirits and of stealing by slum dwellers, mostly boys and young men and mostly Negro. (A few non-Negroes participated, mostly as looters, in the Detroit riot and possibly in some of the others, and one major riot, a rampage-foray for which there seems to have been no precipitating incident, was carried on entirely by Puerto Rican youths in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, at the end of July 1966.) That racial injustice may have had less to do with the riots than is generally supposed is strongly suggested by the fact that a major riot (two men were killed and scores injured, and an estimated $5 million in damage was done by looting, vandalism, and arson to some 175 stores, hotels, and office buildings) occurred in Montreal in October 1969 during a sixteen-hour wildcat strike of policemen.
In framing an explanation, it will be useful to begin by listing certain events (“accelerating causes”), each of which independently increased the probability of such riots occurring. This listing will be followed by a description of a set of states (“background causes”), the concurrent existence of which established some probability of their occurring.33
Accelerating Causes. Without attempting to pass on their relative importance, several such causes may be listed.
“Those first hours, when the cops pulled out, were just like a holiday,” recalls one young man who joined in the looting of shops on 12th Street that morning. “All the kids wandered around sayin’, real amazed like, ‘The fuzz is scared; they ain’t goin’ to do nothin’.’ I remember one day me and another kid, we was locked in the school and there wasn’t any teachers around and we had a ball, we did all the things we’d been wantin’ to do for a long time. We set some fires in the baskets and we emptied the teachers’ desks and we stuck a whole mess of toiletpaper in the principal’s mailbox. Well, that’s what it was like out on the Street.”36
If explaining the riots tended to justify them, so did predicting them. One who said that if drastic measures were not taken to end injustice riots could be expected might be correct, but correct or not his words would help form an impression in the public mind that rioting is a natural and perhaps even laudable response to the continuance of an injustice. From the very beginning of the civil rights movement its leaders have been wont to predict that violence will occur if reforms are not accepted at a faster pace; the riots, of course, made these predictions much more credible and therefore gave the civil rights leaders more incentive than ever to make them.41 At the end of 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., after acknowledging that “a prediction of violence can sometimes be an invitation to it,” went on to predict that “failure to pursue justice” would result in more riots.42 Rustin, at about the same time, told a Senate subcommittee that if the President asked for only a small increase in funds for the poverty program, the Negro leadership “can no longer be responsible for what happens”; and Senator Robert Kennedy said that unless “major steps” were taken “we will reap a whirlwind that will be completely uncontrollable.”43 Even if these predictions had been based on actual knowledge, and even if by making them—and only by making them—it had been possible to secure the needed reforms, one would have to say that making the predictions increased the probability of there being riots; obviously, it was impossible for the reforms to achieve their effect in time to prevent what was being predicted. Realistically, however, those who made the predictions could not be at all sure that the measures they were proposing, some of which—for example, “pur-
sue justice”—were so vague as to be almost meaningless, would have any tendency to prevent rioting; moreover, they had little or no reason to believe that their making the prediction would bring about the adoption of the measures they advocated. Rustin, for example, could not have supposed that his words to the Senate subcommittee would cause the President to ask for a larger increase in the poverty program. The one thing the predictions were likely to do was to make rioting appear more natural, normal, and hence justifiable.44
Background Causes. For there to be any probability of rioting of the kind here under discussion, several conditions had to exist concurrently.
This exclusion from institutions of those who are not able or willing to participate on the terms set by the now predominant middle class has the effect of reducing the influence within the lower classes of those persons who, although not able to perform according to the standard set by the middle class, could nevertheless lead and set an example for—and thus place some restraint upon—less able members of their class. The situation is strikingly like that which, when it occurs in prisons, is said to cause riots. “It is the cohesively-oriented prisoner committed to the values of inmate loyalty, generosity, endurance, and the curbing of frictions who does much to maintain the prison’s equilibrium. When the custodians strip him of his power—when the custodians destroy the system of illicit privileges, of preferential treatment and laxity which has functioned to increase the influence of the cohesively-oriented prisoner who stands for the value of keeping things quiet—the unstable elements in the inmate population have an opportunity to capitalize on the tensions of prison life and to rise into dominance. The stage has been set for insurrection”45
Several conclusions bearing on policy may be drawn from this analysis. One is that there is likely to be more rioting for many years to come, and this no matter what is done to prevent it. So long as there are large concentrations of boys and young men of the lower classes on the streets, rampages and forays are to be expected. Without some support from righteously indignant members of the working class and from politically minded members of the middle and upper classes, such outbreaks probably will not reach the scale that was reached in Los Angeles, Newark, and Detroit, but even so some of them will probably be well beyond the ability of local police forces to deal with. Eventually, much of the inner-city population will move to the suburbs; this change, which is already under way, will reduce the potential for very large riots by physically separating the lower class from the working class and the working class from the middle and upper classes and thus (i) curtailing the number of persons available in any one place as recruits for a riot and (2) making interaction between rioters of different motivational types (for example, rampagers and demonstrators) less likely. For at least another twenty years, however, there will be enough potential rioters of all types in the inner cities to produce frequent rampage- forays and some major riots.
It is naive to think that efforts to end racial injustice and to eliminate poverty, slums, and unemployment will have an appreciable effect upon the amount of rioting that will be done in the next decade or two. These efforts are not likely to be very serious or, if they are, very successful. But even if they are both serious and successful they will not significantly affect the factors that produce riots. Boys and young men of the lower classes will not cease to “raise hell” once they have adequate job opportunities, housing, schools, and so on. Indeed, by the standards of any former time, they have these things now. It may be that in the very long run good opportunities and a high standard of living will bring about the assimilation of the lower classes into the middle and by so doing will make them less violent. But this will happen over the long run—say, from one generation to the next—if it happens at all, and, besides, even middle- and upper-class boys riot sometimes. As for the upwardly mobile and politically minded Negro who has a potential for outbursts of righteous indignation and for demonstrations, even serious and successful efforts at reform are likely to leave him more rather than less angry. The faster and farther the Negro rises the more impatient he is likely to be with whatever he thinks prevents his rising still faster and still farther. As the HARYOU manual, “Youth in the Ghetto,” remarks: “The closer the Negro community gets to the attainment of its goals—the closer it gets to the removal of the determinants and manifestations of racial exploitation and powerlessness—the more impatient individual Negroes will become for total equality.”46
It is not only the Negro who will become more disaffected as his situation improves. The process of “middle-” and “upper-classification” is making the whole society more sensitive to departures, both real and imaginary, from the ideal, inherently unrealizable, of how things ought to be. As the economy becomes more productive and social arrangements more decent, the well-off—and among them youth especially—become more restless and more intolerant of the continued failure to achieve social perfection. Demonstrations, confrontations, protests, dialogues, and so forth, are bound to be more frequent as the middle and upper classes grow and more and more people have the leisure to act upon what the Judeo-Puritan tradition tells them is a positive obligation to make society over. Paul Goodman, who, it seems likely, is a portent of things to come, says that he looks forward to a “conflictual community” that will “combat the emptiness of technological life.”47 No doubt most of the blood spilled by the middle and upper classes will be steer’s blood carried for the purpose in plastic containers. The effect on the lower classes of this sort of behavior by the upper classes may be serious, however.
Although the underlying factors making for riots will not change for quite some time, there may be changes in accelerating factors. Television coverage of riots may be less provocative; if so, one force feeding the growth and spread of riots will be reduced. (This will not, however, undo the main damage already done: the discovery that burning and looting on a wholesale scale is possible will not be forgotten.) The ability of the police to bring incipient riots under control may be improved by the introduction of better methods and equipment; of importance, perhaps, is the chemical Mace, which, if it proves to be both effective and acceptable to public opinion, may change the situation significantly by giving police the upper hand in dealing with juveniles and other offenders whom it would be wrong to shoot. On the other hand, one accelerating factor will doubtless gain in strength. This is the opinion that rioting is a way of protesting injustice and is therefore in large degree justified. As was remarked earlier, the spread of this opinion has made each successive wave of rioting somewhat more ideological than the last. Now that the rationale of rioting has been well worked out, future riots may be mainly for protest rather than for fun and profit.
Insofar as the motives of the past few years predominate in the future, however, it is safe to say that none of the following will make riots less likely: the election of Negro mayors, a mayor’s courageous strolling in the slums, the elimination of police brutality and the improvement of police manners, efforts to placate, co-opt, or restrain Negro extremist leaders, the measurement of the “grievance level” of the Negro community, and the provision of jobs for the “hard-core” unemployed. Politically motivated persons may perhaps be influenced by such things, but looters and youthful rampagers will not be.
There is no intention here to extenuate the crime of rioting. It is easy, however, to exaggerate the harm that riots of the kind that have occurred since 1964 have done and are likely to do. In the first place, not many people were killed or seriously injured by the rioters; in all of the more than one hundred riots from 1964 through 1967, apparently no more than about twenty persons were killed by rioters. It is angry or panicky policemen who do most of the killing and maiming, and when the police are equipped with nonlethal weapons there will probably be much less of this. Because “routine” crime sometimes ceases or is much reduced during a major riot, there may even be some net saving of life and limb by virtue of riots.
The property losses are not as staggering as may be supposed either. In the majority of the recent riots the damage consisted mainly of smashed windows, the theft of liquor, and the burning of some not very valuable buildings. It would not take a very heavy snowfall to cost a city and its people more than an average-sized riot costs them. Major riots are another story, of course, but even they do not cause destruction very different in kind or amount from what would be caused by a sizable urban renewal program. Wasteful as it is to destroy useful structures in either way, the costs of doing so are well within the ability of a very affluent society to bear. In the course of time, too, property losses will be cut as people adapt to the likelihood of rioting by changing the location of structures or the design of them. In Europe, heavy metal shutters are used to protect store windows; doubtless the same thing will be done here (in the worst slums it long has been, of course) when the danger to windows becomes great enough. (On the other hand, if, as seems likely, the government compels insurance companies to insure properties in high-risk areas at normal premium rates, incentives to make such adaptations will be removed.)
The danger that a riot will so disrupt essential services—sewage disposal and water supply, for example—as to create a major public health hazard is very small. To inflict serious damage of this kind would require a considerable degree of expertise and organization. If anything of this sort is to be feared, it is to be feared from a highly disciplined band of political zealots, not from a mob—least of all from a mob of rampagers and looters.
There are those who think that up to now, at least, the riots have been a good thing on the whole because (the Negro view) they have impressed white society with the necessity of drastic action to improve the Negro’s conditions of life or (the white view) because they have helped to instill in the Negro a sense of pride. According to the executive secretary of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, “There is a certain amount of Negro pride which resulted from the riot. The pride factor is evident when you walk or drive down the street. Caucasians are sensitized to Negroes; they are aware that they exist. Before, they could psychologically dismiss them as inferior. . . . The Negroes feel this focus on them. And when they are in school, they are going to expect something to happen. Frankly, I think it’s great.”49
Such claims are impossible to evaluate and yet they cannot be ignored.50 Very probably, the immediate effects of the burning, looting, and killing are of little importance as compared to the enduring changes in attitudes, feelings, and opinions that have been brought about by the rioting. No one now can have the least idea of the nature of these changes, however, and even in retrospect the cause-and-effect relations will remain unclear. The rioting may have given Negroes a new pride (that the facts do not justify it is of course beside the point), and this may do more for the lower-class Negro than all the compensatory education, public housing, job training, and community organization that could be provided with a dozen Freedom Budgets. It may also have impressed whites as nothing else would with the need for immediate and far-reaching reforms, and this may—although there is no reason for confidence—lead to much good and little or no harm. If one could be certain that these effects were indeed produced by the rioting, one would be tempted to conclude that it was a good thing in spite of its cost in life and property. But one cannot be certain. Moreover, even if these effects were produced, others that are disastrous may also have been. A racial myth may be very helpful to the Negro lower class and very harmful to the society as a whole. It may be that the principal effect of the rioting has been on white opinion, that it has checked a growing disposition on the part of the working and lower-middle classes to accept reforms, and that it has established as something beyond question for everyone the mistaken notion that the “problem” is mainly one of race rather than, as has been maintained here, of class. Explaining as “racial” behavior what can as well or better be explained in other terms would seem to be a dangerous game even when played with the best of motives.
Notes To CHAPTER 9
Modern guides written for those who work with juveniles stress the importance of supporting the child. Whenever supporting the child leads to statements excusing or understanding his behavior, as they occasionally must, the precepts of subcultural delinquency are also supported. . . .
Statements reinforcing the delinquent’s conception of irresponsibility are an integral part of an ideology of child welfare shared by social work, psychoanalysis, and criminology. This ideology presents a causal theory of delinquency which, when it attributes fault, directs it to parent, community, society, or even to the victims of crime.