To understand the current rioting in America we need to go back to the beginning. In the Great Migration of 1915-1940, major populations of African Americans moved to Northeastern and Midwestern cities such as Detroit, Chicago, St Louis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York to pursue jobs in newly established manufacturing industries. Many of these cities are flash points today.
This migration was driven by the desire for better educational and social opportunities and to flee racial segregation under Jim Crow laws which encouraged violence and racial bigotry in the Southern states. Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation in the Southern States. These laws were enacted by white Democratic-dominated state legislatures to disenfranchise and remove political and economic gains made by blacks during the Reconstruction period. The Jim Crow laws were enforced until 1965.
In the 1940s, in the Second Great Migration, black workers and families migrated to the West Coast in large numbers, in response to defence industry recruitment efforts at the start of the Second World War. President Franklin D Roosevelt issued an order directing defence contractors not to discriminate in hiring or promotions, opening up new opportunities for minorities. The black population in Los Angeles dramatically rose from approximately 63,700 in 1940 to about 350,000 in 1965, rising from four per cent to 14pc.
Back then Los Angeles had racially restrictive covenants that prevented specific minorities from renting and buying property in certain areas. By the 1940s, 95pc of Los Angeles and southern California housing was off-limits to certain minorities. Minorities who had served in the Second World War returned to face increasing patterns of discrimination in housing. In addition, they found themselves excluded from the suburbs and restricted to housing in East or South Los Angeles, which includes the Watts neighbourhood.
The Watts riots were sparked by an incident that took place on the August 11, 1965 when Marquette Frye, an African-American motorist on parole for robbery, was pulled over for reckless driving. A minor roadside argument broke out, which escalated into a fight with police. Community members reported that the police had hurt a pregnant woman, and six days of civil unrest followed. Nearly 4,000 members of the California Army National Guard helped suppress the disturbance, which resulted in 34 deaths and over $40 million in property damage. It was the city’s worst unrest until the Rodney King riots of 1992.
Between 2013 and 2019, police in the US killed 7,666 people, according to data compiled by Mapping Police Violence, a research and advocacy group. At the end of May 2020 George Floyd, a 46-year-old resident of Minnesota, became yet another victim of police brutality as he was killed in police custody while unarmed. Floyd’s death has prompted thousands of protesters to march in cities around the country demanding justice and an end to police violence.
The number of police killings in the US disproportionately affects African Americans. Despite only making up 13pc of the population, Black Americans are two-and-a-half times as likely as white Americans to be killed by the police. Unsurprisingly, the three largest states – California, Texas and Florida – have the highest total number of killings of black people by police officers.
Once again with the streets of America on fire the problem is the same. This time will President Trump be the man to bring about the much-needed change in American society?
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at [email protected]