Looting In Cincinnati

Questioning Togetherheid

Date

As I write, Cincinnati is under curfew. A white police officer shot and killed a black man. Blacks have been looting and burning. The media imply that the shooting was unnecessary, an example of police brutality. Perhaps it was. I don't know. I wasn't there.

Over and over it happens. Something upsets blacks, and they loot and burn. Usually, these days, the precipitating event is a shooting by the police. There have been other reasons. Blacks burnt Los Angeles because they didn't like the outcome of a trial, and engaged in further burning in 1968 because an assassin shot Martin Luther King. But usually it is the police. Usually it is a white policeman. No one cares if blacks kill blacks.

Can anything be done to prevent these outbursts?

To answer the question, I think we need to understand a few things.

First, though we pretend otherwise, race relations in this country are very bad, and do not seem to be improving. Blacks hate whites. Yes, there are sparse exceptions, and degrees, but the hatred is there. Particularly the blacks of the deep city hate whites. If the animosity were diminishing, wise counsel might be to grit our teeth and wait. I see no sign of a diminution.

The feelings of whites are harder to read. The penalties for public expression of dissatisfaction are heavy. Whites by nature are more controlled than blacks. Yet there is an impatience, and it may be growing.

Second, blacks are profoundly convinced that whites discriminate against them in every conceivable way, and ascribe most of their difficulties to the malevolence of whites. In particular, they believe that white cops single them out for mistreatment. I think this is largely nonsense, but it doesn't matter what I think. What matters is that blacks believe it to the depths of their being, believe it with bitterness and barely repressed fury. Reason, evidence, analysis -- all mean nothing to them. This isn't changing either.

Third, the media remorselessly play up offenses perpetrated by whites against blacks, while concealing race when blacks attack whites. The editor of any paper will tell you that I'm wrong. Believe him if you like, but I'm in the business. As the saying has it, you can bullshit the fans, but you can't bullshit the players. The spin is without remission, and encourages blacks to think that they are always victims, never malefactors.

The media will continue to fan the flames of racial discord. It is a dangerous policy.

Now, if these things are true, and I believe they are, urban outbursts will continue. This too is dangerous. In my best judgement, racial animosity, though heavily repressed, is easily great enough to fuel an explosion of irremediable effect. Should the looters finally invade the white suburbs, as sooner or later they must, a shooting war will begin. Should the impatience of whites ever reach the point of expression, Northern Ireland will seem pacific.

It would be ghastly. How do we prevent it?

Perhaps the wisest course is to get white policemen out of black neighborhoods as quickly as possible. I don't suggest this as a punitive measure, as most white cops are guilty of nothing, but in simple recognition that the races do not mix well. As a beginning we might offer white cops early retirement, and hire only blacks as replacements. We might set up exchange programs to encourage black officers in the white suburbs to swap jobs with white officers in the cities.

Nothing short of separation, I think, will work.

By habit, we explain the conflict between white police and black citizens as a consequence of unrequited racism by whites. Reform of the department is typically recommended. Other standard remedies are counseling, review boards, training in sensitivity, more care in recruiting, and greater supervision. None of it will work because none of it addresses the root of the conflict, which is that the cops are white.

Racial hostility exists, in both directions, which clouds the issue, and incidents of racism by police can be found. Yet if white police were perfect, little would change. Any white police whatever, seeking to control a population that detests them, including a violent and heavily criminal underclass, will be involved in clashes. The impasse is inherently racial. The underlying problem is that blacks regard themselves as a separate people, and white police as an occupying army.

If on the other hand white police were replaced by black, then blacks could police themselves. Within reason, how they chose to do so would be their business. Presumably a black government would be better able than a white to conform the style of policing to the cultural patterns of blacks. A powerful source of tension would vanish. If black officers shot anyone, as would certainly happen, the incident might take on juridical tones, might lead to investigations and calls for reform, but it would not be a racial incident. The cities would not burn.

Objections to the segregation of police will inevitably be raised. Segregation would be said to reverse progress toward integration, to acquiesce in racial division, to turn the United States into two nations occupying the same territory. But …what progress toward integration? Where does integration exist when not compelled? Do we not already have racial division?

We have always been two countries. We merely choose to pretend otherwise. The division does not seem to be changing. On television last night I heard that 28 percent of the whites in Cincinnati have fled the city in the last year, or five years, or ten. (I was in a noisy bar.) Cincinnati is getting blacker. After the current riots, you can be sure that whites who remain are looking at ads for real estate elsewhere.

No happy resolution of today's racial incompatibility appears possible. The best we can hope for is the least unsatisfactory of several bad outcomes. Permit me a heretical thought: Maybe less integration would lead to less hostility.

Friction is proportional to contact. The greater the extent to which blacks govern themselves, and the less authority whites wield over them, the fewer explosions we will see. Letting whites police whites, and blacks, blacks, would reduce contact, and particularly the inevitably confrontational contact with police. Given the potential consequences should an uprising become general, maybe a degree of separation is worth pondering.