Racism, Police Killings and Riots. This was America in 1967 and in 2020. Will this be us in 2070, too?

A polarized electorate. Generational conflict. Americans dying. A resurgence in white identity politics. A struggling economy. Riots in Hong Kong. A strange new disease. A president with truthfulness issues. And race riots in Minneapolis sparked by the shooting of a black man by police.

It may sound like last week. But it was 1967, a time so like this one that we should look back and see what, if anything, we can learn from it.

America in 1967 was a country on edge. Both Alabama and Georgia had governors who'd openly run on platforms of segregation, Civil Rights Act of 1964 be damned. The war in Vietnam was escalating, and the American death toll in 1967 shot up over 11,000, almost double that of the year before. The economy wasn't yet in recession—that would happen at the end of 1969—but it was heading there. Economic growth in 1966 was 6.6 percent. It fell to 2.7 percent in 1967. The term generation gap had just been coined to describe the adversarial relationship between those under 30 and their parents and grandparents. Fifty-one people died in riots in Hong Kong, although on this occasion, it was China's and communism's supporters rallying against the island's then-British rule. And HIV arrived in the Americas.

It was a country ripe for an explosion. That happened on June 11, in Tampa, when police shot a nineteen year-old black man named Martin Chambers. He was unarmed and he was shot in the back. Three days of rioting followed. The next day a riot broke out in Cincinnati. Two weeks later it was Buffalo, then Newark, then Minneapolis, then Detroit. It became known as the "long hot summer." Before it was over, there would be 159 race riots that would leave 85 dead and result in 11000 arrests. President Lyndon Johnson would send in federal troops and authorize use of the National Guard. Johnson had a reputation for being tough. Although President Richard Nixon is most associated with the war on crime, in fact it was started by LBJ. One of his programs led to the increasing militarization of police forces around the country. And of course, he took a tough stand against the Chinese. But despite LBJ's crackdown, the remainder of 1967 and the next three summers would all see outbreaks of rioting.

In addition to trying to suppress the rioting, LBJ also tried to understand why it was happening. On July 28, he formed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission. Professor Steven M. Gillon summarized the Kerner Report for History.com. He says, "The report declared that 'some 75 percent of the police departments in the country' showed 'evidence of strong racist attitudes.' The commission "concluded that 'disruptive police activities' played a 'prominent role either in starting the violence or escalating it once started.'"Dismissing the argument that the riots were orchestrated by outside agitators, the researchers found that the common denominator among rioters was they'd personally witnessed police brutality. The Kerner Report called for, among other things, more and better economic opportunities for blacks and more diverse and sensitive police forces. Otherwise, it said, the riots would continue. President Johnson rejected the report.

Over half a century later, black people are still economically disadvantaged to whites. In 2016, Pew said that in 2014 black households earned 61 percent of what white households earned. In 1967 it was 55 percent. At that rate of improvement, black household incomes should catch up in 2410—although COVID-19 may well erase even that pitiful gain: African Americans have been disproportionately affected. And there's still a disturbingly regular occurrence of black people dying at the hands of police. According to Mapping Police Violence, 104 unarmed black people were killed by police in 2015. In 13 cases, officers were charged. There were four convictions. None was sentenced to more than four years.

We all know the cliché that comes next: Those who do not learn from history......

Where will be in another fifty years?

Sam Hill is, among other things, a Newsweek contributor and best-selling author.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​