Washington — In 50 years, half a dozen blue-ribbon commissions have analyzed racial violence in America. One of these, President Johnson's National Advisory Commission on Racial Disorders (the "Kerner report") in 1968, cited three primary precipitating factors causing riots: "police practices," unemployment, and slums.
Once again -- in Miami -- all three factors have helped precipitate riots, and may do so in other cities.Once again the public registers shock and surprise.
Sociologists look at the situation in America as a whole and find that:
* Legal segregation has been wiped out in 50 years.
* Blacks have made great gains socially, politically, and economically in half a century.
* Despite progress, economic conditions in black central cities remain critically unequal, with violence just beneath the surface.
* New factors now accentuate resentment: the spreading recession, and the influx of job-seeking aliens (either "illegals" slipping over the border, or refugees, like the Cubans) who are welcomed to cities in which many teen-age US blacks cannot find jobs.
"What white Americans have never fully understood -- but what the Negro can never forget," the Kerner report said, in part, "is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it."
Federal statistics show wide income disparities.
The Census Bureau reports the white median family income in 1978 was $18,370; for black families $10,880. (Spanish families: $12,670).
The report says 11.4 percent of the US population is below the "poverty line." But whereas the figure for white families is 6.9 percent, for black families it is 27.5 percent. ("Spanish origin" -- 20.4 percent.)
So-called poverty areas tend to be concentrated in urban centers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says unemployment increased in central cities from 1973 to 1979: for whites from 4.9 to 5.5 percent; for blacks 9.5 to 12.6 percent.
Patricia Harris, Secretary of Health and Human Services, interviewed on ABC's "Issues and Answers" May 25 said, "Blacks are still at the bottom of every economic indicator in the country." She urged public support.
The Labor Department's April figures on national unemployment -- closely watched because of spreading recession -- were 5.4 percent for whites; 11.8 percent for blacks.
Unemployment among volatile black teen-agers in ghettos -- they are the ones who often set off riots and precipitate violence -- is high: It is estimated at around 40 percent or more.
Past commission reports on racial disorders offer the same largely unheeded conclusions. Dr. Kenneth B. Clark testified in 1968 and reviewed reports on the racial riots in Chicago in 1919, Harlem in 1935 and again in 1943, and Watts (California) in 1965, along with other studies in the 1960s:
"It is a kind of Alice in Wonderland," he said, "with the same moving picture reshown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations -- and the same inaction."
The Miami riot left parts of the city burned out, 15 people dead, and 370 injured. A police episode sparked it. Young rioters spread it. The 1968 report, chaired by former Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner, said:
"The typical rioter was a teen-ager or young adult, a life- long resident of the city in which he rioted, a high-school dropout . . . usually underemployed or employed in a menial job. He was proud of his race, extremely hostile to both whites and middle-class Negroes, and, although informed about politics, high distrustful of the political system."
In 1967 there were 128 racial disorders; in 1968, 130. Vernon E. Jordan Jr. of the National Urban League warned in 1978 that the then "economic recovery" was not reaching the black community. "Black unemployment in 1977 . . . was the highest level ever recorded for blacks. . . . The income gap between black and white families is widening and not narrowing."
Since then the economy has turned down.
The census estimated American black population in July 1975 at 24.4 million. Some demographers expect Hispanics to pass blacks as the largest ethnic minority before long if Mexican illegal immigrants continue. These are estimated at half a million or a million annually.