Lessons From a Forgotten Riot

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I received this email yesterday from a woman named Debbie. It was in response to my article on the London riots.

Do you think the built up rage after decades of being denied jobs, justice and dignity had anything to do with the mindless rage? Maybe not so much “jealousy and envy”, which we all live with to some extent, but the fact that there was no way for them to compete for these things? The fact that they didn’t have even a place at the table? Does that kind of reflect what is happening today? There is such a corporate stranglehold on everything (read “Cornered”) that it is becoming harder and harder to be independent and make your way in the world?

I feel it’s not so much the “jealousy and envy” but the inability to even enter the game.

I replied:

Not at the table?

They had Blackberries.

I am not easily guilt-manipulated on the race issue. In 1960, I was a supporter of Martin Luther King’s non-violent protests. I approved of the 1956 boycott of the Montgomery bus lines, which was a legal monopoly run by the city. It needed to be broken. But I had no use for violence. Neither did King.

In late April, 1962, I sat in a UCLA history class taught by George Mowry. He was a liberal, the nation’s leading expert on Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives. Over the weekend, there had been a race riot, or something like it, in Los Angeles. Blacks were involved. But these were not teenagers. They were members of the Nation of Islam: Black Muslims. They got into a shootout with police. One Muslim was killed. Several were shot. A recently published history of this incident is here. All that most of the community knew about this was what was published in local newspapers. It seemed like a more broadly based incident than it was.

What Mowry said is the only thing he ever said that I still remember. “If a group that constitutes 10% of the population uses violence against 90%, it will lose.”

King understood this. Malcolm X did not in 1962. Elijah Muhammed did.

I had heard Malcolm X speak at UCLA a couple of months before. He spoke to a couple of hundred students at the Student Union. He was a very good speaker. But by then, I was immune. A few evenings before, I had seen him gently demolished by a local TV talk show host, Tom Duggan. Duggan invited crackpots and weirdos onto his weekly show. It was a Saturday night late show watched by very few college students. I was a devoted fan. Malcolm came on. It was the lamb going to the slaughter. He never knew what hit him. He was sharper than Duggan, but Duggan was not about to be guilt-manipulated. I shall never forget Duggan’s parting shot. “Malcolm, my great grandfather fought for the Union to free the slaves. You are an ungrateful man.” Then he cut to a commercial. Malcolm was gone after the commercial, or might as well have been. Playing the race card with Duggan, a retired Marine who had served in the South Pacific in World War II, and who got his start on the radio by challenging a Chicago mobster, was not going to work. That completely undermined Malcolm’s “make the white guy crawl” routine. I took this incident to heart.

I was not a big fan of the Nation of Islam. I had read C. Eric Lincoln’s book on the Black Muslims. In a parking lot in Riverside, California, in 1965 or 1966, there was a tall black man in front of a supermarket. He was selling copies of Muhammed Speaks, the NOI’s tabloid. It was a fund-raising device, funded by white devils, i.e., middle class guilty people. The guy looked at me and said, “Sir, do you want to help the black man?” OK, he had his hustle. But that did not mean I had to subsidize it. So, I responded, “No.” I sure did not want to help that particular black man. I went into the store. On my way out, he spotted me. He turned away. He knew a white devil when he saw one. I was the worst kind of white devil: a grad student with very little money.

In 1967, at the University of California, Riverside, which was 60 minutes east of Watts, I heard a lecture by Watts activist, Tommy Jacquette. He later became a Watts legend for raising money for the annual Watts Festival, a worthy cause. But, in 1967, he was playing the race card for all it was worth. I smelled “hustler.” I still think he was, but he turned into a legitimate one later, using the rhetoric of culture, not phony revolutionary rhetoric.

At the lecture, he gave the usual line about repression, etc. Nothing unique, as far as I recall. He got the stage, with faculty members playing the role of white Mantan Morelands.

I was sitting next to a friend, who was a liberal. One professor helped Jacquette remove his blue denim jacket. My friend leaned over to me and whispered: “Liberal guilt begins.” He had it right.

I showed up at his after-lecture seminar with students. Most were white undergraduates, as was the campus in those days. I was a grad student and the school’s token conservative.

At some point, I challenged him on the use of violence. I quoted some version of Morwry’s statement. He kept saying that Los Angeles whites hated blacks. I made this point: “If you riot inside Watts again, the city can shut off all power and water into the area. They can put police on every street out. They can keep the rioters bottled up. The rioters cannot win. The reason why the city would not do this is because the establishment is really not ready to destroy Watts.” I told him that I did not want to see Watts burned down again.

A while later, I had to leave. He walked over to shake hands. I don’t know if he figured I had Watts’ interests at heart, which was true, or whether I was the only white guy who had ever challenged him in front of white people.

I repeat this incident from a time long gone because my point is the same. Mowry was right. The 10% – or tiny fraction of 10% – that uses violence in America will find that they are crushed. They can create random terror with Twitter, a few times, but if it continues, whites (meaning non-blacks) will put pressure on governments to crush these groups.

Black teenagers may think they can attack whites with impunity. They can’t do this for long. There will be a reaction. Below the surface of white guilt is a growing white resentment. When push comes to shove, whites can shove harder. There are more of us than them. Americans are armed. There is a different mentality here. We are not Europeans. We are not Canadians. This is a hidden good old boy in most of us.

Quite bluntly, if they try this in Dearborn, Michigan, they won’t do it a second time. I think they know this. They will not try it the first time.

My fear is this: once the police go into full metal jacket mode, they will not come out of it 100%. There will be a ratchet effect. That is what happened in Russia in the late 19th century. It happened here after 9-11. (On this, see Extreme Prejudice. What the government has done and will do with the Patriot act is horrifying.)

This could escalate. Freedom will be the sacrificial lamb.

August 13, 2011

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com. He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

Copyright © 2011 Gary North