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Campus Unrest Vs. Civil Unrest

Campus Unrest vs. Civil Unrest: A Difference?

Last night I watched Rory Kennedy's (Bobby's youngest) documentary, "The End of the 60's" on PBS. I was struck by the similarities between the "Days of Rage" I lived through in the early 1970’s, and the recent events in Baltimore, Maryland only 75 miles from our home here on the Eastern Shore. In 1970 there were large crowds of youths who gathered, most peaceful and some who were not. There was resistance to the police, escalation from local forces to State Police and National Guard, there was broken glass and fires. There was tear gas, and arrests for “trespassing.”

I stopped for a moment and thought, “How was it different?” I mean, I was completely behind the youth movement at the time, and though I did not commit acts of aggression, I understood why others did, and supported them. If gathering by the thousands, hundreds of thousands, in towns and on campuses across the nation failed to elicit a response, then more needed to be done. Peaceful marches had to move to civil disobedience, blocking streets, taking over campus buildings, forcing the campus to close if they refused to honor the request to strike.

Sometimes the escalation was on our side, to force movement on theirs, in our direction, at other times it was on their side, while they continued to ignore us. At Kent State and Jackson State their response went too far, way too far. Shooting unarmed students who were not committing crimes…shooting kids, college kids, it was unthinkable then, as it is now.

So how was Campus Unrest, different than Civil Unrest in Baltimore? For starters, the reason behind it. We were protesting the War in Vietnam, the draft, the killing of our peers for little to no reason, the refusal to bring the war to an end, to bring our boys home, the lies about “winding down the war” that only lead to an escalation, by the “incursion to Cambodia.” When the government sanctioned live ammunition to be used against fellow college students…that precipitated the rage. Not poverty; we were all from middle class families. Not lack of opportunity; because we not only had opportunity but were taking full advantage of it. Not lack of education; because we believed in its value and were pursuing it in high school and beyond.

I grew up in suburbia, with streetlights and sidewalks we could roller skate on, and quiet streets where we played kickball, and green grass on neighbors’ lawns we would run from one to the other, and there was no crime, there were no drugs, there was no death on the corner. Families stuck together and even when divorce was present, there was always a parent there for you and a father in touch if not in house. If violence moved into our neighborhood, our families moved out.

It bothers me that the Baltimore events are being blamed on lack of opportunities when they are there for anyone who is willing to work for them. It’s blamed on poverty when even the poorest among us have access to food, shelter, and clean water, transportation, and health services. It’s blamed on poor education when public schools are in every community with opportunities to excel and secure scholarships for job training and higher education. It’s blamed on no jobs, when they are plentiful in a city, and it’s blamed on lack of development, when there are always entrepreneurs and corporations ready to take a chance to make a buck.

In Baltimore, they burned their CVS, a brand new facility for folks to secure their prescriptions and groceries. They looted the Madonwin Mall, a cluster of department stores and specialty stores. They burned the under-construction combined Senior Center and Youth Center and Preschool. They looted and sacked Liquor Stores, and Shoe Stores and Clothing Stores in completely selfish, lawless acts of thievery.

It may sound harsh, especially coming from a “bleeding heart liberal” a “progressive Democrat,” but despite the clergy and leaders and good citizens in Baltimore who have chosen a better life for themselves and their people, there is an element of individuals who by virtue of their own bad choices; to use drugs, to fail to apply themselves in school, to set goals and work to obtain them, individuals who seek the easy way out, and then wonder why they are in the mess they are in that I have the most problem with. Individuals who accept absolutely no responsibility for their own actions but blame everybody else for their predicaments, and then use any excuse available to destroy their neighbors’ businesses and community’s resources; police cars and fire trucks, these individuals, these predators, these…thugs…deserve no sympathy, only the force of law supported by the rest of the good citizens.

For people to live safely in an orderly society, they have to make sacrifices, they have to respect each other and they have to respect the law. There’s a reason police respond differently in high crime areas than they do in Mayberry RFD. They have to. And while they need to be held to a higher standard of behavior, they are human beings who break down after seeing what they see every day on the job. If little green men with yellow antennae were abusing their wives and kids, robbing stores, urinating on the streets, assaulting law-abiding citizens, then the police would be especially vigilant when they came across one of those green men or women with yellow antennae. Who you going to watch more closely when your kids are around? A Golden Lab, or a Pit Bull? Honestly.

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