The Judicial Theory of White Liberals and Bull Connor

I write this as an addendum to Fred Reed’s sobering essay on the black underclass.

Eugene “Bull” Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety (which had a Robespierre-like ring to it), and a former radio sports announcer in Birmingham, Alabama, became famous in May of 1963 during riots in which — can you believe this? — the protesters did not burn down any of their neighbors’ homes. Connor had firemen turn fire hoses on the protesters, and he let police dogs on leashes bite a few of them. He got a lot of national TV coverage for this. He made it into Life. He remains one of the pre-eminent symbols of Southern segregationism and police brutality.

A year earlier, on April 27, 1962, there was a race riot in Los Angeles. It is now long forgotten. I found only three brief references to it appear on the Web. Here is one:

I was a junior at UCLA at the time. In the next class period after the riot, Professor George Mowry, an expert on the era of Theodore Roosevelt, made a brief out-of-context announcement to his upper-division history class. I was one of the students. This is the only thing that I can recall from his class, 39 years later. He said this: “When a minority of 10% adopts violence against a majority of 90%, it cannot win.” Short and to the point. Liberals weren’t always naive.

Two years later, the Harlem riots shattered the racial optimism of the Johnson Administration. These riots took place after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not before.

A year after that, the Watts riots in August shattered liberals’ self-confidence in California. What brought the intensity of the rioting home to everyone in the region was the KTLA helicopter, which showed everything going on in the streets below. KTLA, a local TV station owned by Gene Autry, used its freeway commuter report helicopter to hover above Watts, day after day, showing everything. Millions of local white voters watched, appalled.

I can remember liberals who complained after the riot was over that the KTLA had done a disservice to the Watts community by reporting everything — and getting very high Nielson ratings — from the sky above. That may not be when white liberal masochism first became obvious to me, but it is what I recall as the turning point. They were saying that the public (white voters) had no need to see and no right to see that the rioters were burning their neighbors’ homes and looting local stores in their “struggle against racism.” (Liberals in the media have been successful in persuading the public of this principle of judicious journalism with respect to photographs of aborted infants.)

What has not been widely recognized is that white liberals in 1965 soon adopted half of Bull Connor’s theory of jurisprudence.

A Double Standard

Beginning no later than the Reconstruction era, whites in the United States unofficially allowed blacks to rape, steal, and kill each other inside their ghettos. Whites assumed that the white man’s legal order need not fully extend into the ghetto. “Negroes will be Negroes,” was the general attitude. There was an intense white localism regarding law enforcement in ghettos that went far beyond state’s rights. It was local rights to a fault: the right of innocent blacks to suffer violence from blacks and a blind eye from local law enforcement.

Simultaneously, the urban North but especially the South enforced preposterously punitive laws on blacks who committed crimes against whites. It was a double standard of justice: judicial carelessness inside the ghetto and judicial ruthlessness outside.

Scarce resources must be allocated. There is more demand at zero price than supply. This is as true of law-enforcement resources as any other kind. There is just so much to go around. Whites have always paid most of the taxes. They have wanted most of these resources to be expended on their behalf. This is normal. It must always be resisted when the recommended allocation solution is to enforce the law on a selective geographical basis within a government’s wider jurisdiction. A double standard is treason against the law. It creates legal sanctuaries for criminals.

To keep crime in its place — inside the ghetto — courts and vigilante groups imposed sanctions far beyond the letter of the law on those who brought deviant behavior across the line. “Preserving the white way of life” was understood as requiring an uneven distribution per capita of law-enforcement resources: injustice for black victims of black crime. It also was understood as requiring an uneven imposition of negative sanctions on blacks who committed crimes against whites: injustice for criminals.

Civil government is hard-pressed to accomplish much of anything efficiently, but justice ought to be its highest priority. Black-white race relations in the United States have always been marked by injustice. A double standard is unjust, and the West, more than any other society, has long recognized this. The rule of law is built into the West’s sacred legal code. “One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you” (Exodus 12:49).

Role Reversal

Liberals in the pre-Black Power era officially called for equality before the law for blacks. This was the judicial theory of the NAACP. Equality before the law meant especially law enforcement in the South. Jim Crow was seen as a system of civil law in which two legal orders prevailed.

After the riots began in New York City and Southern California, where white liberals ran things politically, they began to apply their more general judicial presupposition to the enforcement of the law on blacks, namely, that deviant behavior is always society’s responsibility. They dared not argue that racial oppression was worse in the North and in Southern California than in Alabama and Mississippi, yet “black rage” seemed far worse in regions where white liberals controlled politics.

So, they stopped talking like George Mowry. They adopted the South’s approach to ghetto crime: blacks are not to be judged by white standards of legality. What was different between white liberals and supporters of Bull Connor is that the Connorites drew a line in the ground and said, “Thus far and no farther” with respect to “Negroes will be Negroes.” The Connorites had limited by geography this theory of acceptable criminality. White liberals now extended the boundary in theory to the suburbs.

Blacks rarely come into the suburbs to loot and pillage. But, during the rioting, they came very close to lower-middle-class white suburbs on the edges of the South-Central Los Angeles ghetto. For whites living in those bordering suburbs who were ready to defend their property with guns, no such line in the ground was considered ethical by white liberals who lived three suburbs away.

Whites in those bordering suburbs wanted the law to be enforced on blacks. They saw that, in principle, it was not possible to protect their property if non-violent blacks inside the ghetto were not also protected. But just as whites on the edges of the ghetto were figuring this out, liberal whites were retreating to “blacks will be blacks.” They justified the violence by arguing that black rioters are not legally responsible for their actions.

Allocating Guilt

When white liberals began to let black rioters off the sociological hook, they found that they had a problem: piles of newly unallocated responsibility. If the rioters were not really responsible, then who was? White liberals had a major allocation problem. They had to unload responsibility, which was piling up fast in the ghettos.

White racism was the agreed-upon answer. Black racism, to the extent that whites allowed it in Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown and Malcolm X, was said to be the product of prior white racism.

But in Los Angeles? In New York City? Why not in Birmingham? Why wasn’t Birmingham burning? Could it be the threat of water hoses? Never! They did not want to conclude that Bull Connor and his successors had placed a lid on things. But where was black rage in the deep South? That’s where white racism was concentrated. Or was it?

There was only one possible answer: latent white racism. Latent white racism had spread its corrosive effects far and wide. It was everywhere. It was pervasive, yet it left few traces. Its only supremely measurable effect was in producing ghetto riot zones.

How can a white liberal deal with latent white racism in white society? On the one hand, by condemning the Connorites’ judicial line in the ground. It is seen as racist to use force to confine black irresponsibility to the ghetto. On the other hand, by accepting the Connorites’ “Negroes will be Negroes” presupposition, but with a search-and-replace operation of “Negro” with “black.” The result is the white liberals’ acceptance of criminal behavior on the part of blacks, which they will not accept on the part of whites. This leads to the media’s deep-sixing of black atrocities on whites, and front-paging of white atrocities on blacks. White criminals are responsible; black criminals are not.

The correct judicial answer is simple enough in theory: deal with atrocities by imposing equal sanctions on their perpetrators. This supreme judicial principle must be upheld: the innocent must be defended, regardless of their race or the race of the attackers. To decide the extent of deviation on the part of a criminal in terms of his background and motivation is the essence of injustice. The essence of justice is the protection of the victim. The Connorites never figured this out, and neither have white liberals. “Negroes will be Negroes” is just a redneck version of “blacks will be blacks.” Both are apologies for irresponsibility: black criminals and white law enforcers.

A Note on Malcolm X

Unlike most whites, I actually heard Malcolm X live and in person. It was at UCLA in that same 1962 spring semester. He spoke at the Student Union. He was an eloquent man, no doubt about it. He also was a guilt-manipulator of unexcelled abilities. I recall this (and only this) from his speech. He said that whites were responsible for the sins of their fathers. He said that the Bible teaches this. It doesn’t. “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16). I thought at the time that Malcolm X needed lot more Bible and lot less Elijah Muhammed — an insight that he learned first-hand three years later.

I saw him one other time, on a local Los Angeles television station. There was a curmudgeon of an interviewer named Tom Duggan. He was a precursor of Joe Pyne and the confrontational TV of the late 1960’s. Both of them died of lung cancer. Duggan was a gentle sort of controversialist. He was a funny man. He used to invite weirdos of all kinds on his show. Malcolm was one of them.

Malcolm went into a low-key, intense-as-all-get-out racial tirade against white injustice. Tom listened for quite a while, challenging him here and there. Then he offered this response. “Malcolm, my great grandfather came from Ireland and fought to free the slaves in the Civil War. He never owned a slave. A lot of Union soldiers died in that war. Malcolm, you are an ungrateful man.” Then he added: “We’ll be right back after this announcement.” He cut to an ad. Malcolm never fully recovered, as I remember it. Anyway, that’s how I prefer to remember it, and since I may be the only person who still does, that’s how it must have been.

I never heard of any white man who said it better to Malcolm X. Tom Duggan was not about to be guilt-manipulated into fawning subservience. We needed a lot more Tom Duggans in the late 1960’s. We could use a lot more today.

I’d even settle for a few George Mowrys.

May 3, 2001

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of an eleven-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible. The latest volume is Cooperation and Dominion: An Economic Commentary on Romans. The series can be downloaded free of charge at