Only Light Can Drive Out Darkness
IT is easy to deplore violence. That the mayor of Los Angeles, the governor of California, and the president of the United States have done. It is more difficult to make a proper diagnosis of the causes of violence and to prescribe appropriate solutions.
After overcoming lesser physical force with superior physical force, we turn our attention to other matters and then wonder why history repeats itself. Nearly one generation ago, there was death and destruction in Los Angeles due to riots in Watts. Now the riots have returned with more deaths than occurred in the past.
In the 1960s, the Gallup organization sent pollsters into black and white communities to discover how to prevent civil disorder. Whites told the pollsters that better law enforcement would stamp out violence. Blacks said that more and better jobs would prevent riots. Even though riots tend to begin in center-city ghettos, the nation ignored the solution proposed by blacks.
The poll results were published in 1967. Early in 1968, President Johnson asked the Office of Economic Opportunity to reserve only half as much money for emergency summer operations as Congress had appropriated the previous year.
That summer unemployed black and brown youths demonstrated at New York's City Hall demanding summer jobs. The mayor said the unruly behavior of the demonstrators was a disgrace. Nevertheless, he dug into the city's "empty purse" and came up with enough money to finance 10,000 more jobs for young people in poor families. The poor had to force their priorities upon a nation that ignored a poll it did not wish to hear.
We know that the nation was aware of the poll findings because funds were appropriated to teach the National Guard and the Army better riot-control techniques. Thus, our federal government ignored prescriptions offered by racial and ethnic minorities and implemented the priority of the white majority. Pandering to the priorities of whites was of short-term benefit, because less than a generation later we are confronted in 1992 with another major riot and a larger death toll.
This time, the blacks said that they were angry because a member of their race was brutally beaten by four policemen who were acquitted as if they had done nothing wrong. Blacks believe one reason the police officers were acquitted was that no blacks were on the jury. The trial was moved from Los Angeles to a community where only 2 percent of the population is African-American. The jury consisted of one Asian-American, one Latino, and the rest whites, although the victim was black.
In his May 1 address to the nation, President Bush said he had sent to Los Angeles 1,000 law enforcement officers trained in riot control and 4,000 soldiers. But Mr. Bush did not propose any public-policy initiatives to guarantee diversity on juries that try cases in which the parties are of different racial groups.
WE have ignored and even rejected the requirement for diversity in the decisionmaking groups in our society too long, and now are experiencing the evil consequences of this practice. The president has campaigned against quotas, which are the only fair way of guaranteeing proportional access to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
There is something fundamentally wrong in a democratic republic with a pluralistic population that has a disproportionate number of members in the Congress who are white and a disproportionate number of participants in the armed forces who are black, or people of color. There is something fundamentally wrong with a justice system that assembles a jury without any blacks for the purpose of rendering a fair decision in a case that involves interracial parties.
Beyond the need and requirement for diversity, there are a few additional principles that must be recognized and implemented to maintain domestic tranquillity.
First, we must insist that all decisionmaking groups in our society (including juries) should consist of dominant and sub-dominant people of power because their different but complementary functions serve as self-correcting components. In the Los Angeles riot, Rodney King, the victim of the brutal beating by police, called on sub-dominants to be forgiving and not to take revenge at random on whites. To be effective, such a call must be matched by genuine repentance by appropriate dominants. These complem entary activities are essential in achieving genuine peace and community.
Second, we must understand the principle of asymmetry and how it works in human communities. Brutality tends to beget brutality. Indeed, the brutality revealed in ghetto riots is a reflection of and rebuttal to the brutality which the society at large has visited upon such people by consigning them to a shorter lifespan, lower wages, and fewer opportunities. According to the principle of asymmetry, state-sponsored brutality - the exercise of superior force - does not overcome neighborhood-generated bruta lity such as the destruction of life and property.
One kind of brutality may suppress another kind of brutality but does not overcome it, as demonstrated by the riot-control experiences of the 1960s. Then, the brutality of the ghetto was merely suppressed to rise another day. And neither does the brutality of the people in the ghetto change the dominant people of power. Again, Rodney King was right; in his plea for the people of Los Angeles to come together, he said that killing or setting fires is not going to change anything. It cannot change anything because it is symmetrical action.
According to Martin Luther King Jr., hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Love, of course, is asymmetrical to hate. The principle of asymmetry postulates that the method of overcoming evil must be asymmetrical to the way evil manifests itself. The principle of asymmetry grants us the privilege, in the words of Dr. King, of choosing between chaos or community. We, the people, dominants as well as subdominants, violate this principle at our peril. As King so beautifully stated it, "Darkness c annot drive out darkness; only light can do that."