Henderson: Has Anything Really Changed?

It’s Time To Start Confronting Fear

Because we are living in this moment and chaos seems to closing in on all sides, it’s natural to assume America is unraveling and headed toward a death spiral. For the people of this nation, discord of this magnitude seems to exist only in history books and dusty photographs of the Civil War.

Some might tell you that distrust between African-Americans and the police has never been worse. Donald Trump will accept the Republican nomination for president next week after his campaign of anger resonated with primary voters. Hillary Clinton’s response is that citizens should be terrified at the thought of a Trump victory.

It’s the platform of fear and loathing.

It wasn’t that long ago when this country went through a greater and longer period of turmoil than what we’re seeing now.

That in no way dismisses the awful reality of what happened last week in Dallas, nor is it a guarantee that things will get better on their own.

Not at all. The kind of change this country needs now takes time, courage and leadership. For perspective on these treacherous times, though, take a quick trip in the Wayback Machine to the 1960s.

African-Americans then, as now, were fueled by the same distrust of police. In cities around the country, police were under constant threat of physical harm. They responded with shows of force that resulted in injury and death.

That led to more rioting. Cities were aflame. Businesses were destroyed and looted. It was everywhere.
In 1963, black leaders, including Martin Luther King’s brother, were targeted by bombings in Birmingham. Protest riots followed.

Four protestors died and hundreds more were injured in Rochester, N.Y., a year later. In that same year, a high school student was shot and killed by a police officer in Harlem. That triggered six days of violence. Nearly 300 businesses were destroyed soon after during riots in Philadelphia.

In the Los Angeles area known as Watts, 34 people died and more than $40 million worth of property was destroyed during six days of rioting in 1965. Police racism was given as the flash point. It was the same story in a Cleveland neighborhood called the Hough, where four protestors died and scores more were critically hurt.

Another blacks-versus-cops riot in Newark claimed 26 lives in 1967. And when King was assassinated a year later, the nation dissolved into anarchy – 43 dead in riots spread over 125 cities. Thousands were injured.

So here we are, a half-century, and it appears the past was prologue. Did anything really change? Hard to say.

We passed laws to ensure equality in things like hiring and education, but there is no legislation against human nature. Blacks still don’t trust police, and many whites respond that cops in African-American neighborhoods are there because that’s where the most crime happens.

In the 1960s the Vietnam war added fuel to the toxic racial mix, with explosive results. Today it’s the fear of terrorism and Muslims that, when layered on to the bubbling black anger, can make it seem like the country is out of control.

This is the part of the column where I’m supposed to give soothing words and say that we came through one frightening era and we can make through this one. We can, of course, and we will – but not without a long, hard look at where this nation is right now.

That means everyone. It starts with confronting fear.

The number of racist cops is statistically minute. So is the chance that the young black male wearing a hoodie is going to rob and shoot you. And while we’re at it, that Muslim in the other interstate lane is probably just trying to pick up his kid from soccer practice.

Once we grasp that ideal, we can then look at history and realize what we’re going through now is not unique. Maybe, though, we can find a roadmap for change.

After nearly 42 years as both a sports and news columnist, along with a variety of other roles, at the Tampa Tribune, Joe Henderson brings his slant on politics and sports to NewsTalkFlorida.com and SportsTalkFlorida.com. Originally from the small town of Lebanon, Ohio, Joe resides outside of Tampa with Elaine, his wife of more than 35 years. Their two grown sons stop by when there is time, and their faithful Watch Cat, Sassy is always on guard.