The Wound to Our Social Order Is Deep and Pervasive

Fifty years plus one month ago, a student protest against the Vietnam War took place on the campus of Kent State University in Ohio.  The National Guard had been sent at the request of the mayor of Kent.  They fired on the protesting students, and four were killed and nine wounded.  In April, President Nixon had widened the Vietnam War to include Cambodia because the Vietcong were using trails in Cambodia as supply lines.  This widening of the war was the immediate cause of the protest.  The mayor of Kent and other observers said the students were becoming violent and that police cars were hit with bottles, traffic was stopped, and bonfires were being lit in the streets.  The deaths of the youths shocked the country, but this writer recalls that wild campus demonstrations against the Vietnam War that were common at that time subsided after that event.  No one was sent to jail for those shootings.

The Kent State student demonstration took place less than two years after another conflagration at the Democratic National Convention of 1968.  The accused instigators of the Democratic Convention riots, the Chicago Eight — Abbie HoffmanJerry RubinDavid DellingerTom HaydenRennie DavisJohn FroinesLee Weiner, and Bobby Seale — would be put on trial for inciting to riot, traveling across state lines to incite to riot, and conspiracy to incite riot.  The trial degenerated into a theater of the absurd, with Bobby Seale sent off to jail for contempt of court by Judge Julius Hoffman.  The remaining seven were convicted of inciting to riot but not of conspiracy.  Abbie Hoffman mocked the judge relentlessly even calling him "Julie."  Eventually, on appeal, all convictions were reversed.  The riots at the Democratic Convention were real enough, but convictions for these instigators and ne'er-do-wells could not be upheld in the courts.

These antiwar protests dovetailed with and augmented the riots connected with the civil rights movement after the assassination of M.L. King, Jr.  His leadership as a Western follower of Mohandas Ghandhi (Ghandhi used the Hindi term "satyagraha" [non-violence]) to awaken the conscience of white America, particularly in the segregated South, blew up in a moment as this leader of peace was brutally murdered as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  So combined, we saw an America in flames because of two movements.  The antiwar movement was outraged and riotous from the beginning — especially after the draft expanded by instituting a lottery draft, and Pres. Johnson sent 500,000 troops to Vietnam.  But the civil rights struggle under the auspices of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (the King umbrella group) was overnight turned into heart-rending violence.

Following that horrible event of King's assassination, "riots broke out in more than 100 cities across the United States, with some raging for several days.  In the week following the shooting in Memphis, hundreds of buildings were burned, thousands of arrests were made, and more than 40 people lost their lives."  More than 12,000 National Guard armed troops were called to protect Washington, D.C., and thousands of troops were mobilized in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Wilmington, and other urban areas.  Fires and looting were widespread.

In Wilmington, Del., the National Guard was there for about eight months, and a lifelong resident, Jea Street, recalls that "in the weeks after the riot ... high school hallways filled with blood from white teachers and youths being beaten up and the county police storming in in riot gear."  In 2018, one professor, David Teague, from the University of Delaware noted, "Since 1968, the businesses, the small shops, the retail, the ecosystem has just totally deteriorated."   In West Center City, he said, "there is not a single doctor's office.  There's not a dentist office.  There's not a school." 

The grim 2018 article that summarized the blight that resulted from the riots at the time, and the anti-white hatred that was let loose, describes 52 years of despair and affliction in Joe Biden's home state of Delaware.  Did he intervene?  Did he heal wounds?  Did he bring community leaders together?  Did he engage with those community leaders in a pro-active, constructive way?  These are all rhetorical questions aimed at revealing the Democratic hypocrisy.  Yes, troops were withdrawn by the governor of Delaware who succeeded the one who had brought them in, but recovery did not follow.  Looting, arson, hate, and despair breed more futility, failure, and frustration.  It is a law of nature, of human nature.

Governor Charles Terry was the Democrat governor of Delaware who had originally called in the National Guard.  Gov. Terry narrowly lost to a Republican, Russell Peterson, in January 1969.  Peterson was much more pro-active in support of the black community in Delaware.  He appointed the first non-white person, Arva Jackson, to the University of Delaware's board of trustees, insisted on the hiring of black people to the State Police, and pressed for the state's open housing law.  But, as stated above, positive responses to the black community notwithstanding, Delaware and Wilmington, its capital, remain devastated in their black communities from the 1968 riots, wanton destruction, and arson.

Joe Biden as senator did nothing to help the black community.  He was the author of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which provided extensive financial support for prisons if the states would agree that prisoners would serve 85% of their sentences.  This has led to much longer incarcerations.  It also provided funding for 100,000 new police officers and $14 billion in grants for community-oriented policing.  It is still debated whether this has led to a lowering of crime, but we see in the wake of the present riots that we have calls for defunding of police, the exact opposite of the policy in Biden's 1994 bill.  Yet the Biden-supported bill came fully 26 years after the riots following Dr. King's assassination, so it does not seem this piece of legislation can be blamed for the dislocations of the 1968 riots, with hatreds that persist to this day.

For this writer, the dislocations, riots, thefts, and arson of the 1960s — both in response to our presence in Vietnam and to the pain of Dr. King's assassination — tore a hole in the American psyche.  Socio-politically and economically, we never fully recovered from the carnage of that era.  In the sixties, our social order was disrupted on a scale not seen since the Civil War.  Now we are seeing a replay of that same disorder.  The wound is re-opened.  The presence of the National Guard fifty years ago did restore order, but it did not heal the wound.