BY: Clarence B. Jones, Diversity Visiting Professor, University of San Francisco; and Scholar Writer in Residence, MLK, Jr. Institute, Stanford University
In July 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson formed the 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, to explain the riots that had plagued U.S. cities each summer since 1964 and provide recommendations for the future. The commission’s 1968 report, known as the “Kerner Report,” concluded that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” The commission warned that unless conditions were remedied, the country would face a “system of ‘apartheid'” in its major cities.
One of the major issues the commission examined was the conduct of police in African-American communities across the nation. Among its findings and recommendations, the commission concluded:
The abrasive relationship between the police and the minority communities has been a major — and explosive — source of grievance, tension and disorder. The blame must be shared by the total society.
The police are faced with demands for increased protection and service in the ghetto. Yet the aggressive patrol practices thought necessary to meet these demands themselves create tension and hostility. The resulting grievances have been further aggravated by the lack of effective mechanisms for handling complaints against the police. Special programs for bettering police-community relations have been instituted, but these alone are not enough…
The Commission believes there is a grave danger that some communities may resort to the indiscriminate and excessive use of force. The harmful effects of overreaction are incalculable. The Commission condemns moves to equip police departments with mass destruction weapons, such as automatic rifles, machine guns and tanks. Weapons which are designed to destroy, not to control, have no place in densely populated urban communities.