Miller Center Talk: 1967 Riots and the Kerner Commission

Sep 7, 2018

Historian Steve Gillon spoke at the Miller Center in Charlottesville Thursday, Sept. 6 to discuss his new book about the Kerner Commission and the investigation into riots that swept the country in 1967.
Credit Marguerite Gallorini

More than 50 years ago, race riots swept across the United States during what became known as the “long, hot summer of 1967.” Historian Steve Gillon spoke at the Miller Center in Charlottesville Thursday to discuss his new book about the Kerner Commission and the investigation into the unrest. WMRA’s Marguerite Gallorini reports.

In July 1967, race riots in Newark and Detroit lasted several days, and killed and injured hundreds of people. The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders was set up, and a team of social scientists were stunned by what they saw on the field, says author Steve Gillon:

STEVE GILLON: These field reports are intensely critical of the police. They show that the one common thread that ran through all of the riots: that everybody who participated in the riots either was a victim of police brutality or had witnessed police brutality.

The commission issued its report in 1968. While its overall proposals were largely disregarded by President Johnson, some of its recommendations on law enforcement did have an impact.

GILLON: There is a real effort, after 1968: a number of police organizations meet with members of the commission, they take their recommendations seriously and they incorporate them. One of the central recommendations that the commission had was that the police not be militarized, and that when events take place, there are ways of controlling without bringing in tanks. There was a positive impact of the commission on policing; I think it’s – we’re going backwards in some ways.