Today marks the 50th anniversary of the events that kicked off the uprising in Newark. I’ve described previously how I felt about what was going on back in the States while I was living on the slopes of Mt. Kenya. I’d forgotten that it was an incident of police beating a black man that sparked the outrage that ended with 26 people dead and more than $10 million in damage to the city, which still has not recovered in many ways. As this morning’s New York Times story relates:
On July 12, 1967, residents of a large public housing development saw the black cabdriver badly beaten by police officers and followed them to the Fourth Police Precinct house, in Newark’s Central Ward. The crowd ignored calls for a peaceful protest, and the police responded in force.
I’ve noticed lately that some Black activists have begun to call for the abolition of police departments as the only way to end this long history of police brutality against people of color. Decades of so-called police “reform” have not improved the situation enough. While this idea has a long history, going back to 19th century libertarian anarchists, no one has shown how it would work on a sustained basis in a large, complex society. Nevertheless, debates over how utopian ideas can work in practice can lead to sustainable changes. But that requires real arguments, not shouting slogans at each other, which is all we seem capable of doing in this country lately.