I first came across the term spatial deconcentration in the mid-eighties when I washed up in Alphabet City, which was at the time a blasted landscape in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I arrived a fresh-minted paranoid, recently defeated in an encounter with tentacles of the octopus in another land entirely. Looking around at the rubble and poverty existing within the wealth and power of the archetypal metropolis, I could see this neighborhood was contested territory. The hundred-year-old tenements, built to house the waves of immigrants flooding into New York through Ellis Island, had been all but worthless less than a decade before my arrival; building after building had been torched for the insurance money, then abandoned. The City found itself an unwilling owner of these burned-out shells and had resorted to selling them for a dollar a piece to anyone who could afford to pay the accrued real estate taxes, and the local community board was begging people to squat abandoned buildings in order to preserve the housing stock.
Yet by the mid-eighties, the neighborhood was "hot"; landlords were subdividing already small tenement apartments into tiny studio apartments; young white people -- NYU students with rich daddies, baby lawyers from Midtown, baby stock traders from Downtown, and trust fund babies from all over the world -- were happy to move into these miniature homes at two or three times the rents paid by their black and brown neighbors, who were feeling the heat of all the creative harassment techniques landlords could use to get rid of unwanted tenants while staying just inside the law; a state of war existed between the local police precinct and the extensive squatter community. Something was going on here, but what, exactly?
An answer of sorts was offered in the September 1985 issue of World War III Illustrated, a comic book produced by local artists and illustrators that contained the occasional written article. This particular issue, number 6, included an article called "Spatial Deconcentration" by an author called Yolanda Ward. It came with an alarming introduction:
This article is based on material that is publicly available, especially the "Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civic Disturbances," known as the Kerner Commission Report. However, it is also based on materials not publicly available, specifically a number of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) files which Ms. Ward and her collaborators apparently stole from the HUD office in Washington, D.C.
Spatial Deconcentration was first published as part of a collection of notes for a national housing activists' conference held in Washington, D.C. No more than 500 copies were made at that time. Shortly after this first publication, Ms. Ward and two associates were accosted on a Washington street one night by two well-dressed white men, who singled out Ms. Ward from her two friends, ordered her at gunpoint to lie face down in the street, and then shot her in the back of the head. The documents she and her friends allegedly stole from HUD have never been published, nor are they included here. [my emphases]
The article itself described how:
housing activists in Philedelphia [sic] first stumbled across the strangely-worded theory called "spatial deconcentration."
. . . housing leaders had fought their campaign [against efforts to "depopulate Philedelphia [sic] of its minority neighborhoods"]. . . under the assumption that their struggle against land speculators and government bureacracy [sic] had an economic base. . . . they were entirely wrong. . . . instead of being economic, the manifest crises that plague inner-city minorities are founded in a problem of control. The so-called "gentrification" of the inner-cities, the lack of rehabilitation financing for inner-city families, the massive demolition projects which have transformed once-stable neighborhoods into vast wastelands, the diminishing inner-city services, such as recreation, health care, education, jobs and job-training, sanitation, etc. . . are all rooted it [sic] an apparent bone-chilling fear that inner-city minorities are uncontrollable.
The article goes on to describe how Lyndon B. Johnson established the Kerner Commission to study the riots that had convulsed many inner-city ghettoes during much of the 1960s:
Begun in 1967 immediately in the wake of the Detroit riot, it was not published until March of 1968. But only weeks after its emergence, Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated and the most massive wave of riots that was ever recorded in American history almost forced a suspension of the Constitution. . . .
The Kerner Commission strategists came to the conclusion that America's inner-city poverty was so entrenched that the ghettoes could not be transformed into viable neighborhoods to the satisfaction of its [sic] residents or the government. The problem of riots, therefore, could be expected to emerge in the future, perhaps with more intensity and as a more serious threat to the Constitutional privileges which most Americans enjoy. They finally concluded that if the problem could not be eliminated because of the nature of the American system of "free enterprise," then American technology could contain it. This could only be done through a theory of "spatial deconcentration" of racially-impacted neighborhoods. . . . Inner-city residents, then, would have to be dispersed throughout the metropolitan regions to guarantee the privileges of the middle class. Where those inner-city residents should be placed after their dispersal had been the subject of intense research. . . . Suburbs was its answer; the farthest place from the inner city.
I was disturbed by the article, which seemed to offer an explanation of what was going on in the neighborhood of abandoned, crumbling, squatted housing stock that was my new home, and my recent experiences had left me more than willing to believe any talk of government conspiracy. At the same time, I was puzzled; I read the piece several times but somehow couldn't make sense of it.
The article implied that the Section 8 federal program of housing subsidies for low-income people was being shaped into "a counterinsurgency tool against minorities" to "force inner-city residents to move into the suburbs," yet I knew that many of my elderly neighbors would have become homeless or have had to leave the city if not for the Section 8 payments that helped them pay their rent.
Extraordinary claims were made about a covert war launched by the federal government against racial minorities of the inner cities, yet there was no meat to the argument. It talked of "some kind of sweeping master plan" to depopulate minority neighborhoods, but never quite specified what that plan might be or where it came from. The incendiary question was posed:
Did the military, in 1967, issue an ultimatum to the government to remove the blacks and other inner-city minorities to black suburban "townships" in knit-glove [a later version corrects this to "kid-glove"] fashion with the option, in failure, being the iron fist?
Yet no clear answer emerged from the article. Perhaps it was contained in those stolen papers -- which were neither reproduced nor described. But if those papers were key to understanding the secret conspiracy, why not publish their contents? What purpose was served by keeping the evidence itself secret?
There seemed something faintly ridiculous about the idea of transforming leafy American suburbs into bantustans -- and something rather sad about the belief that the suburbs were "the farthest place from the inner city" -- but the article claimed that "returning suburbanites . . . were finding city life more economical" and asserted, "It was actually a relief to some activists that proof had finally emerged of a real master plan, and not merely another fictionalized account of some remote possibility." Yet no clue was offered as to what that "proof" might be.
Everything, it seemed, came back to those stolen papers, along with the report of the Kerner Commission, which I remembered vaguely as a benign attempt of the 1960s to tackle the deep misery of the American ghettoes following the inner-city riots of 1967. Yet Yolanda Ward asserted that President Johnson's executive order (EO) establishing the Kerner Commission:
led to the emergence of some of the most dangerous theories since the rise of Adolf Hitler.
A strong claim, diametrically opposed to the historical record, and simply not substantiated in the article.
Then there was that very shocking story of the assassination of the author, Yolanda Ward, by:
two well-dressed white men, who singled out Ms. Ward from her two friends, ordered her at gunpoint to lie face down in the street, and then shot her in the back of the head.
If it was true, why hadn't I come across the story anywhere else? How could such a clear example of malfeasance go unremarked-upon in the left-wing and activist journals that were my information sources in the days before the publicly available Internet? Why hadn't I heard of Yolanda Ward? And for that matter, why was the only source for this disturbing tale a comic book?
Eventually, seeing spatial deconcentration taken up and pushed hard by people whose provocative tactics I recognized from my former life, I backed away from the issue. Old-fashioned greed, venality, and political corruption, along with the history of the locality, did as good a job of explaining much of what was happening on the Lower East Side of Manhattan as any unsubstantiated concept of racist warfare by the federal government against the residents. During the subsequent couple of decades, however, spatial deconcentration took on a life of its own, promoted largely by Frank Morales, a local character I'd come to regard with suspicion, if not contempt, for the way he'd manipulated my fellow squatters and appointed himself "leader" of a movement that functioned well, by and large, on the principle of leaderless organization. Other studies emerged over the years, but they all sourced back to the Yolanda Ward article or to subsequent articles by Morales, himself citing Yolanda Ward.
Now, two decades later, a ray of light on the issue came on page 8 of the "Father" Frank Morales thread with the first piece of evidence that didn't circle straight back to the Yolanda Ward article or subsequent development of the concept by Morales. Jingofever had checked the archives of the Washington Post and found:
The Washington Post wrote:Yolanda Ward, 22, a cochairwoman of the District's City Wide Housing Coalition, was shot and killed during a street robbery in far Southeast Washington early yesterday morning, D.C. police reported.
At last, confirmation that Yolanda Ward existed, she was a housing activist, and she was killed in D.C. in 1980. Jingofever listed several other articles about the murder, all available from the Washington Post archives for a fee. It was worth $19.95 for a temporary subscription to find some answers to the puzzle after all these years; I paid the fee and downloaded seven articles covering the murder, the investigation, and the trials of the perpetrators.
Only the first report, published November 3, 1980, the day after the murder, called the victim Yolanda Ward; subsequent reports corrected the spelling of her name to Yulanda. And while that first report contained an allegation by a member of the housing coalition that her death was a targeted assassination prompted by her activism, details emerged in the subsequent reports that threw doubt on that claim; by the time of the final report on March 10, 1982, it seemed clear that the murder of Yulanda Ward was a tragic and probably unintended consequence of a street robbery. The November 17, 1981, report, "3 SE Men Plead Guilty to Murder of Housing Activist," explains what happened:
The Washington Post wrote:Ward and three male companions were robbed after leaving a Halloween party. . . . All four robbery victims were told to bend over automobiles during the robbery and not to look up. Pannell [one of the defendants pleading guilty] placed a .41-caliber magnum revolver against Ward's head, [DA] Harrington said, and when she jerked her head back to see what was happening, the gun went off.
The men charged were nineteen, twenty, and twenty-one years old, and a fourth, aged eighteen, had been charged but not yet tried. At least one of them had been involved in another robbery half an hour earlier, and another one was also found guilty of manslaughter charges in a death during a burglary that happened two months after Yulanda Ward's murder. There is nothing in the Washington Post coverage of the crime to substantiate the WWIII claim that:
two well-dressed white men, who singled out Ms. Ward from her two friends, ordered her at gunpoint to lie face down in the street, and then shot her in the back of the head.
Nevertheless, Yulanda's friends suspected a targeted killing because:
The Washington Post wrote:Ward's home had been burglarized and she had received telephone calls threatening her with bodily harm unless she halted her work.
However, her work involved not just her position as cochair of the housing coalition; she was also on the board of the local rape crisis center, an activity perhaps more likely than housing activism to invoke harassment and threats. Whatever the reason for the harassment, no connection was found between the threats and the killing, although the allegations were investigated by both the prosecution team and the defense lawyers. The fellow activist who had made the assassination claims had not been present at the murder and refused to testify before a grand jury investigating the allegation. Three of the four accused muggers pleaded guilty.
So the assassination was likely a mugging, and the author of the article didn't know how to spell her own name; what else did the article get wrong? What of the military conspiracy against the poor? My September 1985 copy of World War III Illustrated is buried deep within the dogawful mess I laughingly refer to as my archives; luckily, the article is available on the Internet.
In fact, there are two versions on the paper available online; they differ in many trivial respects. The one I believe to be a reasonably faithful copy of the World War III Illustrated version is in the archives of ABC No Rio, a neighborhood artists' collective. Another version, clearly a later one, is available from the Etext archives and other sources. Neither version gets the putative author's name right; the later version corrects some typos in the text, introduces fresh errors (changing the spelling of Rockefeller to Rockerfeller, for instance), tinkers with the punctuation and paragraphing, and includes an expanded introduction containing an obviously erroneous signature line:
-- J.F.W., Editor (published in World War Three Illustrated circa1989)
(the actual year of publication in WWIII was 1985); an amended opening sentence:
This article was researched and written primarily by Ms. Yolanda Ward, sometime in the early Nineteen Eighties
(Yulanda Ward was killed in 1980); and a new sentence ratcheting up the outrage:
The material herein contained details a policy, known as "Spatial Deconcentration," which rivals both Nazi Germany and present day South Africa in its injustice to individuals, its utter disregard for human and civil rights, and outstrips them both in the remarkable secrecy with which it has been, until now, instituted.
I looked at both versions for comparison's sake but have otherwise used the version in the ABC No Rio archives.
Reading through the article again after all these years, I found it no less confusing and even more unconvincing. Rife with exaggeration, non sequiturs, and internal inconsistencies, the material is poorly organized (paragraphs appear to have been transposed in places), chronology is manipulated to imply causality where none exists, and allegations are thrown out without any attempt to substantiate them. It also shows signs of being the product of multiple authors. For example, the person who wrote the first few paragraphs consistently uses the spelling Philedelphia -- this misspelling is used seven times in the opening paragraphs, showing that it's not a mere typo; subsequent paragraphs are written by someone who uses the correct spelling, Philadelphia.
With the heat of my paranoia having cooled and my perspective having lengthened over the years, many of the allegations in the text now seem to me just plain unlikely. How could the federal government have implemented a racist housing policy derived from Pentagon strategists without anyone noticing (apart from "Yolanda" Ward and her associates)? One would expect "the most dangerous theories since the rise of Adolf Hitler" to have concrete and obvious consequences-what were they? Assumption-laden questions are raised ("how could it have been possible for the surgical demolition operations in the minority neighborhoods of the cities to be so identical in all American cities? Could any organization other than the Pentagon have done this?") but not answered, "Yolanda" explains, "because the weight of available documentation and the speed with which it is being collected and digested has been burdensome." The paper doesn't deliver what it promises, and its allegations simply don't ring true.
Perhaps this is the point at which I should make it absolutely clear that I am not arguing the absence of racism in the United States. There is no doubt in my mind that American racism is alive and well; that's clear to those with eyes to see. But there's room for debate on the question of whether institutionalized racism is operating within the U.S. government and whether it was in 1968, when the Kerner report was produced, or in the early eighties, when the "Yolanda" paper emerged; the spatial deconcentration theory adds nothing to that debate. A secret racist "master plan" conceived within the Pentagon and implemented through HUD, no matter how plausible it might seem in light of pervasive American racism, is simply not demonstrated by the evidence offered in the "Yolanda" Ward paper.
Nor am I denying the undeniably alarming militarization of police departments over the last few decades; I simply do not believe the theory of spatial deconcentration offers any insight into how or why it happened, nor do I believe the idea that it originated in a desire to force minorities out of their ghettoes is credible in any way.
The article quotes from several sources in attempting to make its case (though not, significantly, those apocryphal stolen HUD papers). Some of those sources are poorly identified or are documents internal to bodies such as the Urban Institute (which "Yolanda" calls a "bizarre agency"); however, two published sources are very specifically cited: the Kerner Commission report itself, along with the Johnson EO establishing the commission, and:
one Anthony Downs, a civilian. Unlike most of the other contractors, whose names were followed by lines of titles, Downs was simply listed as being from Chicago, Illinois. . . .
Downs had written Chapters 16 and 17 of the Kerner Commission Report; the chapters devoted to demographic shifts in the inner cities and spatial deconcentration. . . .
In 1970, Downs wrote a little-known book called URBAN PROBLEMS AND PROSPECTS, in which he more graphically detailed the theory of spatial deconcentration. . . . The consisten [sic] theme of Down's PROBLEMS, Chapters 16 and 17 of the Kerner Commission Report, and Goodman's works at the Institute, was that of control.
The line of thinking about control found reinforcement in another book Downs wrote in 1973, entitled OPENING UP THE SUBURBS: AN URBAN STRATEGY FOR AMERICA. Downs' theories from the Kerner Commission Report crystalized, [sic] taking as their cue his arguments laid down in URBAN PROBLEMS. The theory of white "dominance" was carefully discussed in SUBURBS.
Luckily, the "little-known book" is still available through interlibrary loan (let's hear it for public lending libraries!), as are Downs's second-cited work and the full report of the Kerner Commission, which contains Johnson's EO in an appendix. I put in a request for the books.
While I was waiting for them to arrive, I decided to see what other sources had to say about the Kerner Commission. Wikipedia would seem to be an obvious place to start, and is the first link thrown up by Google, but the entry is flagged for disputed neutrality; it contains the following assertion:
Wikipedia wrote:It was and is assumed at the time that the Commission's work was meant to impede that movement "toward two societies" when in fact the Commission's work, headed by Dr. Anthony Downs,  was intended as a work in progress to bring about the spatial deconcentration of concentrated metropolitan Black populations into smaller pocketed neighborhoods called satellite cities or cluster zones. So called urban re-gentrification, block grant and other federal programs through HUD,  are just some of the tools used to "blight" formerly stable Black communities.
I guess one person's riot-torn ghetto is another person's "stable Black community." "Yolanda" is not cited by the Wikipedia piece, but her influence is clear. Note 1 is: "see Appenndix [sic] F and K p320 of the Report; see also Urban Problems and Prospects by Anthony Downs fn 1 of Chapter 2; who at that time from [sic] Chicago, but later a fellow of the Brookings Institute," which seems to echo the damning accusation in "Yolanda": "one Anthony Downs, a civilian. Unlike most of the other contractors, whose names were followed by lines of titles, Downs was simply listed as being from Chicago, Illinois." Note 2 simply says: "see 29 Ad.L Rev.,p. 583,fn 35" [sic].
On the other hand, Africana Online seems to hold a favorable opinion of the commission and quotes praise from Martin Luther King Jr.:
Africana Online wrote:The commission presented its findings in 1968, concluding that urban violence reflected the profound frustration of inner-city blacks and that racism was deeply embedded in American society. . . . The commission marshaled evidence on an array of problems that fell with particular severity on African Americans, including not only overt discrimination but also chronic poverty, high unemployment, poor schools, inadequate housing, lack of access to health care, and systematic police bias and brutality.
The report recommended sweeping federal initiatives directed at improving educational and employment opportunities, public services, and housing in black urban neighborhoods and called for a "national system of income supplementation." The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., pronounced the report a "physician's warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life."
Sounds good to me. What was the problem, again? Indeed, "recommended sweeping federal initiatives directed at improving . . . housing in black urban neighborhoods" is the exact opposite of how "Yolanda" represents the Kerner report.
Africana Online goes on to say:
Africana Online wrote:By 1968, however, Richard M. Nixon had gained the presidency through a conservative white backlash that insured that the Kerner Report's recommendations would be largely ignored.
Then again, the Heritage Foundation sees the commission as a despised tool of the hated welfare state, as explained on the foundation's Web site at the time of the report's 30th anniversary in 1998:
Heritage Foundation wrote:A prerequisite to understanding what happened to create the liberal welfare state, and to accomplishing the goal of rolling it back, is understanding the liberal welfare state itself, its origins, and the thinking that led to its creation. There's no better place to start than by closely examining the so-called Kerner Commission. . . .
Looking back on the Kerner Commission, it resembles a Who's Who of liberal elites back then, including New York mayor John Lindsay, Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Oklahoma populist senator Fred Harris. . . .
The report looks into the causes of the many urban riots and concludes, "White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture that has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II." The report also concludes that a massive redistribution of income had to take place to remedy this problem. It also suggests the addition of 1 million government-created jobs, the institution of a higher minimum wage, significantly increasing welfare benefits, spending more money on education and housing, and so on.
Again, quite different from the "Yolanda" assertion that:
The Kerner Commission strategists came to the conclusion that America's inner-city poverty was so entrenched that the ghettoes could not be transformed into viable neighborhoods to the satisfaction of its [sic] residents or the government. . . . They finally concluded that if the problem could not be eliminated because of the nature of the American system of "free enterprise," then American technology could contain it.
Google also supplies a link to the Summary of the Kerner Commission Report at BlackPast.org: An Online Reference Guide to African American History. The report sounds nothing like the ruthless strategy "Yolanda" warns us against:
Summary of the Kerner Commission Report wrote:Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of American life; they now threaten the future of every American.
This deepening racial division is not inevitable. The movement apart can be reversed. Choice is still possible. Our principal task is to define that choice and to press for a national resolution.
To pursue our present course will involve the continuing polarization of the American community and, ultimately, the destruction of basic democratic values.
The alternative is not blind repression or capitulation to lawlessness. It is the realization of common opportunities for all within a single society.
This alternative will require a commitment to national action-compassionate, massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on this earth. From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.
The vital needs of the nation must be met; hard choices must be made, and, if necessary, new taxes enacted.
New taxes-no wonder the Heritage Foundation hated it!
The report's perspective on the housing conditions of African-Americans at the end of the Jim Crow era is clear-eyed and compassionate:
Summary of the Kerner Commission Report wrote:Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans.
What white Americans have never fully understood-but what the Negro can never forget-is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain, and white society condones it. . . . The term "ghetto" as used in this report refers to an area within a city characterized by poverty and acute social disorganization, and inhabited by members of a racial or ethnic group under conditions of involuntary segregation.
Involuntary segregation, indeed. The issue was not one of forcing reluctant minorities out of their convenient and "economic" inner-city homes; the struggle of the desegregationist era was to break down the exclusivity of the suburbs and gain access for those trying to escape the ghetto.
While waiting for the full report and the Anthony Downs books from the library, I also looked over a couple of articles by Frank Morales expanding on the "Yolanda" piece: "The War for Living Space" (interesting choice of words!) and "Origins of Operation Garden Plot: The Kerner Commission," a section of a larger piece called "The War at Home: U.S. Military Civil Disturbance Planning." A version of the Garden Plot article appeared in Covert Action Quarterly in 2000 and is available on several sites, including Michael Rivero's What Really Happened; the "War for Living Space" piece, self-published by Morales in 1997, has been taken down from the site that previously housed it but is still available through the Wayback Machine.
I found that Morales emphasizes and sharpens the more inflammatory allegations of the "Yolanda" article. Where "Yolanda" claims:
A high proportion of the commissioners for the Report and their contracting stategists [sic] were military or paramilitary men. Otto Kerner himself, chairman of the Commission, was the Governor of Illinois at the time of the Report but before that had been a major general in the army. . . . The Commission's list of contractors and witnesses was no less glittering in military and paramilitary personnel. No less than thirty police departments were represented on or before the Commission by their chiefs or their deputy chiefs. Twelve generals representing various branches of the armed services appeared before the Commission or served as contractors.
Morales speaks in terms of an:
Morales in "Origins of Operation Garden Plot" wrote:overwhelming presence within the commission and its consultants of military and police officials. One quarter of over 200 consultants listed were big-city police chiefs, like Daryl F. Gates, former chief LAPD. Numerous police organizations, including the heavily funded Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (financiers of SWAT), guided the commission's deliberations. No less than 30 police departments were represented on or before the commission by their chiefs or deputy chiefs.
This passage manages to contradict itself by adding an inflated assertion ("One quarter of over 200 consultants . . . were big-city police chiefs") to the "Yolanda" claim that: "No less than 30 police departments were represented on or before the commission."
When the library copy of the full Kerner Commission report arrived, I discovered that neither of those figures is correct.
Appendix F of the report lists "Consultants, Contractors, and Advisers," by my count, actually 232 of them, so if Morales is right, we should find fifty-eight "big-city police chiefs." The list includes the kinds of people one would expect to have an interest in the prevention and control of riots: sociologists, economists, attorneys, judges, law school professors, city council members, firefighters, representatives of the Legal Aid Society, a librarian, policy wonks of all kinds, someone from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, three journalists from the Dayton Daily News, and the editor of Ebony magazine. Several consultants in addition to the "civilian" Anthony Downs are identified by location only.
And fifty-eight "big-city police chiefs"? Well, no. Just eight consultants are described as "Chief of Police," including those from such "big cities" as Rochester, NY, and Kansas City, MO.
Adding those described as police commissioners or superintendents brings the total to ten. Let's include former chiefs and commissioners: twelve, still a long way from Morales's figure. So we'll add in deputies (including Daryl F. Gates, at that time still deputy chief of the LAPD, not chief, as Morales claims), assistants, inspectors, former inspectors, and a couple of directors of public safety: by stretching the definition of police chief as far as it will go, it's possible to get as high as twenty, which is still less than 10 percent of the listed consultants, contractors, and advisers.
By any count, Morales's claim is just plain wrong. Perhaps the more modest claim by "Yolanda" ("No less than 30 police departments were represented on or before the commission") might be sustainable if we include the list in Appendix E, "Witnesses Appearing at Hearings of the Commission"? Again, no.
A total of 101 witnesses appeared before the commission (some of the witnesses are also listed as consultants), and there are many notable names of the era, from Edgar J. Hoover to Martin Luther King, Jr., from Cyrus Vance, listed as "Former Deputy Secretary of Defense on National Guard Matters," to JFK's brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, who was running LBJ's far-reaching antipoverty programs and appeared as director of the Office of Economic Opportunity; Dick Gregory is on the list as "comedian, lecturer"; the ubiquitous Vernon Jordan spoke on behalf of the Voter Education Project; even Stokely Carmichael made an appearance, speaking on behalf of the Ad Hoc Committee of Black Militants. It's a sign of the times that only one of the 101 names is female: Mrs. Charlotte Meecham, representing the Police Community Corrections Program of the American Friends Service Committee.
Police departments, however, are surprisingly underrepresented, with just five witnesses. By way of comparison, the Ad Hoc Committee of Black Militants fielded four representatives, including Carmichael.
If we include a former chief of police of Syracuse, NY, who appeared as director of HUD's Inspection Division, and the executive director of the Independent Association of Chiefs of Police, we can stretch the number of police witnesses to seven; however, three of the police departments are already accounted for on the Consultants list, so the two lists together yield twenty-four police representatives, not all of them actual police departments. But four of the twenty names on the Consultants list are from police departments already accounted for through other representatives (when, for instance, both chief and deputy chief appeared before the commission). So only twenty "police departments [using the term in its widest sense] were represented on or before the commission," not the "No less than 30" claimed by "Yolanda."
Morales includes the following claim that does not appear in "Yolanda":
Morales in "Origins of Operation Garden Plot" wrote:The heavily funded Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (financiers of SWAT) guided the commission's deliberations.
In fact, this organization is not listed as consultant, witness, or in any other capacity -- not surprising, given that it wasn't established until several months after the Kerner Commission report was published.
So the police representation claims made by "Yolanda" are greatly exaggerated, and Morales has expanded the exaggeration into outright lies.
But what of the military? Morales repeats the "Yolanda" claim that "Twelve generals representing various branches of the armed services appeared before the Commission or served as contractors." I found only eleven names on the two lists with any kind of military association, four of whom were civilians (the director of operations for the Department of the Army; Cyrus Vance, as described above; a former Secretary of the Army giving his opinion as an attorney; and Alfred Blumstein of the Institute of Defense Analysis) and seven who were active or retired major generals and/or adjutant generals: five with the National Guard and two major generals accompanying the governor of Michigan, who were probably also National Guard.
Only seven generals, not twelve (three major generals, two adjutant generals, one retired major general, and one former adjutant general), among 232 consultants and 101 witnesses, and all or almost all of them representing the National Guard, not "various branches of the armed services" -- hardly the "overwhelming presence" claimed by Morales. But let's not forget Otto Kerner himself. "Yolanda" apparently sees his chairmanship as a sign of military influence:
A high proportion of the commissioners for the Report and their contracting stategists [sic] were military or paramilitary men. Otto Kerner himself, chairman of the Commission, was the Governor of Illinois at the time of the Report but before that had been a major general in the army.
Morales drops the mention of the army but retains the implication of a military career:
Morales in "Origins of Operation Garden Plot" wrote:former Major General and then Governor of Illinois, Otto Kerner.
Kerner's actual military service is specified in Appendix D, "Biographical Materials on Commissioners":
The Kerner Commission wrote:Governor of Illinois 1961- ; . . . U.S. District Attorney, Northern District of Illinois, 1947-54; County Judge, Cook County, 1954-61. Illinois National Guard in 1934-41; 1946-54, advancing from Private to Captain, 9th Infantry Division, European Theater of Operations; Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and 32nd Infantry Division, Pacific Theater of Operations 1941-46, retiring as Major General; Soldier's Medal, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation (34th Field Artillery Battalion).
He was in the National Guard before and after World War II, served with distinction in the army during the war, served as U.S. district attorney in Illinois and then as a county judge while remaining in the National Guard after the war, and retired from the National Guard thirteen years before his appointment to head the commission and seven years before being elected governor -- a somewhat different picture from that implied by Morales and "Yolanda."
In fact, as might be expected just a couple of decades after World War II, a majority of the commissioners, six of the eleven, including Kerner himself, served in some military capacity during the war. "Yolanda" tries to bolster the claim that "high proportion . . . were military or paramilitary men" by reducing the number of commissioners from eleven to seven. One of the commissioners, Herbert Jenkins, was chief of police in Atlanta, Georgia; perhaps he's what "Yolanda" means by a "paramilitary" man. And only Commissioner James C. Corman, U.S. representative for the 22nd District of California, remained on active duty beyond post-WWII demobilization; he served in the Marines at Bougainville, Guam, and Iwo Jima from 1942 to 1946 and then, after some years as an attorney in Los Angeles, returned to the Marines and served again from 1950 to 1952.
The Kerner Commission is the cornerstone of the military conspiracy, according to Morales and "Yolanda," but it turns out that the image of consultant and witness lists "glittering in military and paramilitary personnel" is simply not true.
Not just the makeup of the commission is misrepresented; its founding document, President Johnson's executive order, is also distorted. Morales says:
Morales in "War for Living Space" wrote:Johnson's executive order, which set up the commission, called for an investigation into "the origins of the recent major civil disorders in our cities, including the basic causes and factors leading to such disorders and the influence, if any, of organizations or individuals dedicated to the incitement or encouragement of violence." The order sought recommendations in three major areas: "Short term measures to prevent riots, better measures to contain riots once they begin, and long term measures to eliminate riots in the future." [emphasis added] The commission's two immediate aims were "to control and repress black rioters using almost any available means," and to assure the white population that everything was in hand, even though the operative logistics of relying on local police with National Guard and federal troop back-up for use in urban class warfare "proved to be quite inadequate." [the bolding and "emphasis added" are added by Morales]
He revises the passage slightly for "Origins of Operation Garden Plot":
Morales in "Origins of Operation Garden Plot" wrote:The executive order establishing the commission called for an investigation of "the origins of the recent major civil disorders and the influence, if any, of organizations or individuals dedicated to the incitement or encouragement of violence."(4) The work of the commission was funded from President Johnson's "Emergency Fund." The executive order sought recommendations in three general areas: "short term measures to prevent riots, better measures to contain riots once they begin, and long term measures to eliminate riots in the future."(5) Their two immediate aims were "to control and repress black rioters using almost any available means",(6) and to assure white America that everything was in hand.
Both versions contrive, through selective quotation and misleading juxtaposition of statements from different sources, to give an erroneous impression of the EO. In his "Garden Plot," however, Morales gives the game away by footnoting his sources.
The first section he quotes is fine as far as it goes; it's from subsection (1) of the EO's Section 2:
Lyndon B. Johnson in his executive order wrote:SECTION 2. Functions of the Commission. (a) The Commission shall investigate and make recommendations with respect to:
(1) The origins of the recent major civil disorders in our cities, including the basic causes and factors leading to such disorders and the influence, if any, of organizations or individuals dedicated to the incitement or encouragement of violence. [my emphases]
(2) The development of methods and techniques for averting or controlling such disorders, including the improvement of communications between local authorities and community groups, the training of state and local law enforcement and National Guard personnel in dealing with potential or actual riot situations, and the coordination of efforts of the various law enforcement and governmental units which may become involved in such situations;
(3) The appropriate role of the local, state, and Federal authorities in dealing with civil disorders; and
(4) Such other matters as the President may place before the Commission.
(Section 1 of the EO lists the commissioners appointed by Johnson; sections 3 to 6 deal with administrative matters; section 7 calls for a report by March 1, 1968.)
Note how in "Garden Plot" Morales omits (without indicating the omission by ellipses) the phrase "including the basic causes and factors leading to such disorders," leaving the impression that Johnson was interested only in finding people to blame for the unrest. And of course, activities such as "communications between local authorities and community groups" do not fit the picture and are omitted, as is "the training of state and local law enforcement and National Guard personnel in dealing with potential or actual riot situations," which contradicts the idea of Pentagon-led "urban class warfare."
The second quotation Morales claims is from the EO, "short term measures to prevent riots, better measures to contain riots once they begin, and long term measures to eliminate riots in the future," is actually from "Remarks of the President upon Issuing an Executive Order Establishing a National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, July 29, 1967," reproduced in the commission report as Appendix B. But once again, Morales edits the text to give the impression he wants. In his "Remarks," Johnson posed a long list of questions, including:
Lyndon B. Johnson upon issuing his executive order wrote:
-Why riots occur in some cities and do not occur in others? . . .
-How well equipped and trained are the local and State police, and the State guard-units, to handle riots?
-How do police-community relationships affect the likelihood of a riot-or the ability to keep one from spreading once it has started? . . .
-Who suffered most at the hands of the rioters?
-What can be done to help innocent people and vital institutions escape serious injury?
-How can groups of lawful citizens be encouraged, groups that can help to cool the situations?
-What is the relative impact of the depressed conditions in the ghetto-joblessness, family instability, poor education, lack of motivation, poor health care-in stimulating people to riot?
-What Federal, State and local programs have been most helpful in relieving those depressed conditions?
This hardly suggests a racist intent to wage war on the poor. Johnson went on to say:
Lyndon B. Johnson upon issuing his executive order wrote:We are asking for advice on
-short-term measures that can prevent riots,
-better measures to contain riots once they begin,
-and long-term measures that will make them only a sordid page in our history.
I know this is a tall order.
Again Morales edits a sentence to slant it toward the impression he wants to give; "long-term measures that will make them [riots] only a sordid page in our history" becomes "long term measures to eliminate riots in the future," somewhat more ominous-sounding, and in case you didn't get the point, in "War for Living Space" Morales puts the phrase in bold and includes "[emphasis added]"!
The third statement quoted by Morales, "to control and repress black rioters using almost any available means," which he claims is one of the two immediate aims of the commission, not surprisingly appears nowhere in Johnson's EO or his "Remarks" -- even if that were the intention, one would hardly expect a president to say so in an official document. In fact, in "Origins of Operation Garden Plot," note 6 gives the source as "James W. Button, Black Violence, The Political Impact of the 1960's Riots, Princeton University Press, 1078 [sic; presumably 1978] pg.116." The second so-called "aim," "to assure white America that everything was in hand," is neither presented as a direct quotation nor sourced in a note; needless to say, it's no more a part of the commission's remit than is the inflammatory "control and repress" quote.
It should come as no surprise that both Morales and "Yolanda" also misrepresent the commission's report, distorting its findings and recommendations. "Yolanda" attacks the report head-on, claiming that it argues the exact opposite of what it actually says:
The Kerner Commission strategists came to the conclusion that America's inner-city poverty was so entrenched that the ghettoes could not be transformed into viable neighborhoods to the satisfaction of its [sic] residents or the government. The problem of riots, therefore, could be expected to emerge in the future, perhaps with more intensity and as a more serious threat to the Constitutional privileges which most Americans enjoy. They finally concluded that if the problem could not be eliminated because of the nature of the American system of "free enterprise," then American technology could contain it. This could only be done through a theory of "spatial deconcentration" of racially-impacted neighborhoods.
This is not even a simplification of the report's nuanced and comprehensive response to Johnson's list of issues to be addressed. In fact, the Kerner Commission recommended pouring money into ameliorating the misery of the ghettoes, yet the second prong of the commission's strategy, unlocking the virtual prisons of the inner-city ghettoes by tackling the white racism that kept black people out of the suburbs, is turned on its head and reinterpreted as a conspiracy to force minorities out of the inner cities. The Kerner report sees the available options as stark:
The Kerner Commission wrote:Three choices are open to the nation:
* We can maintain present policies, continuing both the proportion of the nation's resources now allocated to programs for the unemployed and the disadvantaged, and the inadequate and failing effort to achieve an integrated society.
* We can adopt a policy of "enrichment" aimed at improving dramatically the quality of ghetto life while abandoning integration as a goal.
* We can pursue integration by combining ghetto "enrichment" with policies which will encourage Negro movement out of central city areas.
The report comes down heavily in favor of the third option.
In Part II of the report, "Why Did It Happen," the commission looks at the background to the riots, and the report's summary makes its position clear:
The Kerner Commission wrote:White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II. Among the ingredients of this mixture are:
* Pervasive discrimination and segregation in employment, education and housing, which have resulted in the continuing exclusion of great numbers of Negroes from the benefits of economic progress.At the same time, most whites and some Negroes outside the ghetto have prospered to a degree unparalleled in the history of civilization. Through television and other media, this affluence has been flaunted before the eyes of the Negro poor and the jobless ghetto youth.
* Black in-migration and white exodus, which have produced the massive and growing concentrations of impoverished Negroes in our major cities, creating a growing crisis of deteriorating facilities and services and unmet human needs.
* The black ghettos where segregation and poverty converge on the young to destroy opportunity and enforce failure. Crime, drug addiction, dependency on welfare, and bitterness and resentment against society in general and white society in particular are the result.
Yet these facts alone cannot be said to have caused the disorders. Recently, other powerful ingredients have begun to catalyze the mixture:
* Frustrated hopes are the residue of the unfulfilled expectations aroused by the great judicial and legislative victories of the Civil Rights Movement and the dramatic struggle for equal rights in the South.
* A climate that tends toward approval and encouragement of violence as a form of protest has been created by white terrorism directed against nonviolent protest; by the open defiance of law and federal authority by state and local officials resisting desegregation; and by some protest groups engaging in civil disobedience who turn their backs on nonviolence, go beyond the constitutionally protected rights of petition and free assembly, and resort to violence to attempt to compel alteration of laws and policies with which they disagree.
* The frustrations of powerlessness have led some Negroes to the conviction that there is no effective alternative to violence as a means of achieving redress of grievances, and of "moving the system." These frustrations are reflected in alienation and hostility toward the institutions of law and government and the white society which controls them, and in the reach toward racial consciousness and solidarity reflected in the slogan "Black Power."
* A new mood has sprung up among Negroes, particularly among the young, in which self-esteem and enhanced racial pride are replacing apathy and submission to "the system."
* The police are not merely a "spark" factor. To some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and in a "double standard" of justice and protection--one for Negroes and one for whites.
Chapter 6 of the report, "The Formation of the Racial Ghettos," looks at the movement of black Americans throughout the twentieth century from the rural poverty of the South to the city ghettoes of the North. The report's summary of the chapter points out:
The Kerner Commission wrote:Within the cities, Negroes have been excluded from white residential areas through discriminatory practices. Just as significant is the withdrawal of white families from, or their refusal to enter, neighborhoods where Negroes are moving or already residing.
Chapter 8, "Conditions of Life in the Racial Ghettos," puts the lie to the Wikipedia image of the "stable Black community." The report summarizes:
The Kerner Commission wrote:A striking difference in environment from that of white, middle-class Americans profoundly influences the lives of residents of the ghetto.
Crime rates, consistently higher than in other areas, create a pronounced sense of insecurity. For example, in one city one low-income Negro district had 35 times as many serious crimes against persons as a high-income white district. Unless drastic steps are taken, the crime problems in poverty areas are likely to continue to multiply as the growing youth and rapid urbanization of the population outstrip police resources.
Poor health and sanitation conditions in the ghetto result in higher mortality rates, a higher incidence of major diseases, and lower availability and utilization of medical services. The infant mortality rate for nonwhite babies under the age of one month is 58 percent higher than for whites; for one to 12 months it is almost three times as high. The level of sanitation in the ghetto is far below that in high income areas. Garbage collection is often inadequate. Of an estimated 14,000 cases of rat bite in the United States in 1965, most were in ghetto neighborhoods.
Ghetto residents believe they are "exploited" by local merchants; and evidence substantiates some of these beliefs. A study conducted in one city by the Federal Trade Commission showed that distinctly higher prices were charged for goods sold in ghetto stores than in other areas.
Lack of knowledge regarding credit purchasing creates special pitfalls for the disadvantaged. In many states garnishment practices compound these difficulties by allowing creditors to deprive individuals of their wages without hearing or trial.
Forty years later, we seem to have forgotten the truly awful conditions that prevailed in the American ghettoes; how else to explain the comfortable fiction of "stable Black communities"?
The commission devotes some eighty pages to the report's Part III, "What Can Be Done," consisting of chapter 10, "The Community Response," chapter 11, "The Police and the Community" (which includes discussion of grievance procedures and how to increase nonwhite police recruitment), chapter 12, "Control of Disorder" (containing the subsection "Danger of Overreaction"), chapter 13, "The Administration of Justice under Emergency Conditions" (pointing out that the "assembly-line" justice dispensed within the ghettoes was strained to breaking point during riots, leading to a loss of even basic due-process rights for those arrested), chapter 14, "Damages: Repair and Compensation," chapter 15, "The News Media and the Disorders," and chapter 16, "The Future of the Cities."
The commission pulls no punches in chapter 11:
The Kerner Commission wrote:The abrasive relationship between the police and the minority communities has been a major -- and explosive -- source of grievance, tension and disorder. The blame must be shared by the total society.
The police are faced with demands for increased protection and service in the ghetto. Yet the aggressive patrol practices thought necessary to meet these demands themselves create tension and hostility. The resulting grievances have been further aggravated by the lack of effective mechanisms for handling complaints against the police. . . .
The Commission recommends that city government and police authorities:
* Review police operations in the ghetto to ensure proper conduct by police officers, and eliminate abrasive practices.
* Provide more adequate police protection to ghetto residents to eliminate their high sense of insecurity, and the belief of many Negro citizens in the existence of a dual standard of law enforcement.'
* Establish fair and effective mechanisms for the redress of grievances against the police, and other municipal employees.
* Develop and adopt policy guidelines to assist officers in making critical decisions in areas where police conduct can create tension.
* Develop and use innovative programs to ensure widespread community support for law enforcement.
* Recruit more Negroes into the regular police force, and review promotion policies to ensure fair promotion for Negro officers. . .
Chapter 12 looks in more detail at policing issues:
The Kerner Commission wrote:The maintenance of civil order cannot be left to the police alone. The police need guidance, as well as support, from mayors and other public officials. It is the responsibility of public officials to determine proper police policies, support adequate police standards for personnel and performance, and participate in planning for the control of disorders.
To maintain control of incidents which could lead to disorders, the Commission recommends that local officials:
* Assign seasoned, well-trained policemen and supervisory officers to patrol ghetto areas, and to respond to disturbances.
* Develop plans which will quickly muster maximum police man power and highly qualified senior commanders at the outbreak of disorders.
* Provide special training in the prevention of disorders, and prepare police for riot control and for operation in units, with adequate command and control and field communication for proper discipline and effectiveness.
* Develop guidelines governing the use of control equipment and provide alternatives to the use of lethal weapons. Federal support for research in this area is needed.
* Establish an intelligence system to provide police and other public officials with reliable information that may help to prevent the outbreak of a disorder and to institute effective control measures in the event a riot erupts.
* Develop continuing contacts with ghetto residents to make use of the forces for order which exist within the community.
* Establish machinery for neutralizing rumors, and enabling Negro leaders and residents to obtain the facts. Create special rumor details to collect, evaluate, and dispel rumors that may lead to a civil disorder.
The Commission believes there is a grave danger that some communities may resort to the indiscriminate and excessive use of force. The harmful effects of overreaction are incalculable. The Commission condemns moves to equip police departments with mass destruction weapons, such as automatic rifles, machine guns and tanks. Weapons which are designed to destroy, not to control, have no place in densely populated urban communities. [my emphasis]
Again, the complete opposite of what "Yolanda" and Morales would have us believe. In chapter 16, the commission initiates a clear-sighted discussion of how best to approach the (at that time) increasing numbers of impoverished African-Americans concentrated in the segregated inner-city ghettoes, and this section also provides an example of some of the most egregious manipulation of the report by Morales:
The Kerner Commission wrote:By 1985, the Negro population in central cities is expected to increase by 72 percent to approximately 20.8 million. Coupled with the continued exodus of white families to the suburbs, this growth will produce majority Negro populations in many of the nation's largest cities.
The future of these cities, and of their burgeoning Negro populations, is grim. Most new employment opportunities are being created in suburbs and outlying areas. This trend will continue unless important changes in public policy are made.
In "The War for Living Space," Morales turns this statement of concern for the growth of ghettoes into a racist fear of the black population itself:
Morales in "War for Living Space" wrote:"By 1985, the Negro population in central cities is expected to increase by 68% to approximately 20.3 million. . . This growth will produce majority Negro populations in many of the nations largest cities. The future of these cities is grim. . . [italics added] This trend will continue unless important changes in public policy are made. . . [the italics and "italics added" are added by Morales; the ellipses are also his]
Morales omits mention of the white exodus from and lack of employment opportunities within the central cities; he removes the phrase "and of their burgeoning Negro populations" from the sentence "The future of these cities, and of their burgeoning Negro populations, is grim," implying that "The future of these cities is grim" because of the growth in the black population, not the growth of the ghettoes. By removing the employment sentence, he is able to give the impression that the trend that concerns the commission is black population growth, not the lack of e