ALTHOUGH THERE has not been a major race riot in this country since the 1960s, this summer began with widespread fear of epidemic rioting. The fear was prompted by riots in the Liberty City section of Miami in the late spring. During the summer, it was sustained by smaller outbreaks of trouble in Chattangooga, Tenn., and a few other places. Late in the season there was a tense situation, vergin on violence, in Philadelphia after a black teen-ager had been shot by a policeman.
As the summer comes to an end, two groups have focused attention on the causes of riots and on prescriptions for preventing them. One group, the Grassroots Network, has issued a report warning that the people who will take part in the disturbances today are different from those who did so in the past. And they will take part for different reasons. The Network's report identified today's rioters as young people, some of whom are not yet teen-agers. The reason the young people will riot, according to the Network, is not frustration with racism -- as was the banner in riots years ago -- but rather an extension of anger over other things. The rioters could be prompted to action, according to the report, by an arrest that involves many policemen and draws a large crowd, by a badly run bus system that leaves a crowd to walk home or by cutbacks in public services, such as recreation centers, without discussions between politicians and the people who live in depressed areas.
The Grassroots organization, which includes black, Puerto Rican and Mexican neighborhood groups from 16 cities and the National Black Policmen's Association, said in its report that people who live and work in areas where riots can occur are almost never consulted by planners in the cities or by the federal government in the crafting of programs to prevent riots. The report is critical of many existing government programs for poor people and young people. It says that these programs generally serve only to get money into the hands of bureaucrats and policy-makers but fail to get money or services to the poor themselves.
The second group now concentrating on the problem is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. After an August meeting in Atlanta attended by people from 31 cities, the NAACP concluded that a "racial double standard" is to be blamed for fostering the anger in American minorities that could lead to rioting. The NAACP plans to begin attacks on the dual system, according to its leaders, by challenging prosecutors, grand juries and police departments that fail to act in casesa where there is possible evidence of racial bias. An example would be the acquittal of white policemen on charges of beating a black man to death. Such an incident has been credited with sparking the Miami riots.
Evidence available from the riots that did occur this sumer indicates that the Grassroots group is right about the young age of today's rioters. They appear to be children and teens who are alienated from society -- from schools and businesses as well as families -- and who have lost all dreams of being an American success. What can be done? Bring these young people back into society's fold is the key. To give them some justified feeling of being an important part of the society they live in, it will be necessary to improve schools in urban areas, to maintain public services such as recreation centers and libraries, despite the financial problems of cities, and to make jobs available that teach skills to young people and offer them some sense of future.These goals are easy to set out; but, as years of social programs can attest, they are hard to achieve.
Nevertheless, not working toward such goals leaves open only one option: waiting for a summer explosion of anger by alienated minority youth. By approving the president's Youth Employment Bill and getting added money to social programs for poor youth, the federal government can at least reaffirm its commitment to those young people who feel so left out.