Riots and Research: What a 1968 Report on Urban Unrest Has to Do With Ferguson

September 2, 2014

“Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate but unequal.”

It’s the most famous line—and likely the only line you’ve heard—from the 1968 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders report about the riots that wracked U.S. cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles, and Newark in the 1960s.

Popularly known as the Kerner Commission (after its chair and then-Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner), the group of law enforcement professionals, elected officials, and leaders of national organizations were appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson to examine the root causes and possible remedies for the unrest that plagued Detroit even as the commission began its research.

We’re still asking the Kerner Commission’s questions, but this time about Ferguson, Missouri, and the August 9 police killing of the unarmed, college-bound 18-year-old Michael Brown: “What happened?” “Why did it happen?” “What can be done to prevent it from happening again?”


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