Long Hot Summer – 1964 Edition

The other night, I watched about 20 minutes of a PBS documentary on “1964”.

Amidst The Beatles conquering America and Cassius Clay’s conversion to militant black power Islam, was a segment on the Harlem Riots of 1964.

With the most recent riot (with many more to come) being the Milwaukee riot of this past weekend, I was struck by how similar the circumstances of these riots are, even way back in ’64.

The Wikipedia page on the Harlem riots is most assuredly swinging liberal in its context and presentation, but even through this lens:

On Thursday, July 16, 1964, James Powell was shot and killed by police Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan. The second bullet of three fired by Lieutenant Gilligan killed the 15-year-old African American in front of his friends and about a dozen other witnesses. The incident immediately rallied about 300 students from a nearby school who were informed by the principal. This incident set off six consecutive nights of rioting that affected the New York City neighborhoods of Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. In total, 4,000 New Yorkers participated in the riots which led to attacks on the New York City Police Department, vandalism, and looting in stores. At the end of the conflict, reports counted one dead rioter, 118 injured, and 465 arrested. It is said that the Harlem race riot of 1964 is the precipitating event for riots in July and August in cities such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Rochester, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Jersey City, New Jersey; Paterson, New Jersey; and Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Now, what is perhaps most interesting about all this is how these ’64 riots took place after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was enacted on July 2, 1964.

How can this be you might ask?

The pattern seems to be: When whites capitulate (e.g., through passage of the Civil Rights Act, forced desegregation, etc.), urban blacks don’t calm down, but actually get more heated up.

They see such events as a sign of (white) weakness, as an opportunity, with new leverage, to ‘get even’, take from Whitey, and otherwise feel empowered.

To their tribal mindset, empowerment is a zero sum game. This, in turn, brings out the savage in them, a natural social state for their kind.

More from Wikipedia:

The events of the Harlem riot of 1964 are based on the writings of two newspaper reporters, Fred C. Shapiro and James W. Sullivan. They assembled testimonies from other reporters and from residents of each of the boroughs, and gave testimony of their presence at the riots.

Consistently annoyed by the presence of young students on his stoops, Patrick Lynch, the superintendent of three apartment houses in Yorkville, at the time a predominately working-class white area on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, voluntarily hosed down the black students while insulting them according to them: “Dirty niggers, I’ll wash you clean”; this statement had been denied by Lynch. The angry wet black students started to pick up bottles and garbage-can lids and threw them at the superintendent. This immediately drew the attention of three Bronx boys, including James Powell. Lynch then retreated to the inside of the building pursued by Powell, who according to a witness, “didn’t stay two minutes.” As Powell exited the vestibule, off-duty police Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan, who witnessed the scene from a nearby shop, ran to the scene and shot at the 15 year-old James Powell three times. The first round, said to be the warning shot, hit the apartment’s window. The next shot hit Powell in the right forearm reaching the main artery just above the heart. The bullet lodged in his lungs. Finally, the last one went through his abdomen and out his back. The autopsy concluded on the fatality of the chest wound in almost any circumstance. However, the pathologist said that Powell could have been saved suffering only the abdominal perforation with a fast response of the ambulance. The sequence of events is still unclear on many aspects such as the spacing of the shots and, crucially, Powell’s possession of a knife…

In opposition, witnesses saw Powell ran into the building not carrying any knife. As he exited the vestibule, some said he was laughing until the lieutenant shot him. From the point of view of the French class which according to New York Times’ reporter, Theodore Jones, “have had the best view of the ensuing tragedy”; when Gilligan pulled his gun, the young Powell threw up his right arm, not holding a knife but as a defensive gesture.

The most controversial episode remains the testimony of Cliff Harris, Powell’s Bronx friend, interviewed the day following the death of James Powell. On that morning, they, James Powell, Cliff Harris and Carl Dudley, left the Bronx around 7:30 A.M. Powell carried two knives on that day which he gave to each of his friends to be held for him. On the scene he asked for the knives back. Upon Dudley’s refusal he asked Cliff who asked him why he wanted it back? and then handed it over.

The knife which was not seen on the crime scene at the moment of the incident was found by a teacher reported school principal Francke. The knife was situated in the gutter at about eight feet of the body

Here we are, 50 years later, and the above dynamics (in terms of blacks behaving badly) haven’t really changed all that much.

Some things, it seems, never change.


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