The Kerner Commission
On July 29, 1967, President Johnson issued Executive Order 11365, establishing the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. It is more commonly known as the Kerner Commission, named for its chair, former Major General and then Governor of Illinois, Otto Kerner. The creation of the commission came hot on the heels of the "rioting" in Detroit, Michigan, which left 43 dead, several hundred wounded and over 5,000 homeless. The urban uprisings, set off by the usual spark, police brutality, white on black crime, which is usual in poor communities, lead to 160 "disorders" which erupted in some 128 cities in the first nine months of 1967.
Johnson's executive order, which set up the commission, called for an investigation into "the origins of the recent major civil disorders in our cities, including the basic causes and factors leading to such disorders and the influence, if any, of organizations or individuals dedicated to the incitement or encouragement of violence." The order sought recommendations in three major areas: "Short term measures to prevent riots, better measures to contain riots once they begin, and long term measures to eliminate riots in the future." [emphasis added] The commission's two immediate aims were "to control and repress black rioters using almost any available means," and to assure the white population that everything was in hand, even though the operative logistics of relying on local police with National Guard and federal troop back-up for use in urban class warfare "proved to be quite inadequate."
It was during the early stages of staff recruitment that commission Deputy Executive Director Victor H. Palmieri "described the process as a war strategy." And so he might, given the overwhelming presence within the commission by the US military and police. Some of those commissioners, consultants and advisors included: Commissioner Charles B. Thorton, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer, Litton Industries; Commissioner Advisor on Private Enterprise, John L. Atwood, President and CEO, North American Rockwell Corporation; Commission Director of Investigations, Milan C. Miskovsky, "formerly connected to the Central Intelligence Agency." In fact, no less than thirty police departments were represented on or before the commission by their chiefs or deputy chiefs. Twelve generals representing various branches of the armed services appeared before the commission or served as contractors. Accordingly, the commission's final report, which was issued in March 1968, "commends the Army for the advanced status of its training," its preparation for "civil disturbance" and "urban warfare."
Mr. Anthony Downs
According to Yolanda Ward of the Washington DC based Grass Roots Unity Conference, "a hardly noticeable name listed among the intelligence and military giants was that of one Anthony Downs, a civilian. Unlike most of the other contractors, whose names were followed by lines of titles, Downs was simply listed as being from Chicago, Illinois. His name was to become prominent among inner city grassroots leaders around the country by the end of 1979." Yolanda and her friends were subsequently persecuted for being the first to alert the people to the evil of "spatial deconcentration," a phrase uncovered through their expropriation of federal HUD (Housing and Urban Development) documents from offices around the country. Yolanda, co-chair of the City-Wide Housing Coalition, was assassinated in October 1980 on the streets of Washington DC (11/3/80 Washington Post). She was 22 years old, strong, black, woman, freedom fighter. It is in her memory that we will fight on...
Mr. Anthony Downs, an "economist" and Chicago based real estate operator was a "key player" within the Kerner Commission. His specialty, was the production of hard statistical data, demographics of "riot areas," particularly their racial and class characteristics. He worked closely with former Census Director Scammon, also a consultant to the commission. Together they developed analytic techniques designed to quantify the threat within the cities; in other words, designed to target the oppressed for displacement.
Downs had been a member of an earlier, confidential, Task Force on Cities. As a result of that experience he at once presented the Commission with a detailed research agenda derived from his previous work with the Task Force. In the end, after all the behind the scenes of the Commission was said and done, "the first fully elaborated outline of the interim report was developed by Downs. His agenda called for scenarios and re-creations of the riots, studies of the immediate responses of control forces (police and national guard), advance planning studies, analysis of police-community relations, and studies of short range options...For short run program development studies Downs recommended concentrating on manpower...and Defense Department planning."
Formally, Downs worked through his Chicago based consulting firm, Systemetrics, Inc. An earlier version of the above agenda was entitled: "Re: Direct Control: Police-Community Relations," dated August 21, 1967. Downs developed a classificatory system for rating "riots," selecting clusters of cities in which "links" were established, as part of a study on the hypothetical "cluster effect."
When it came time for the Kerner Commission to issue its program recommendations, it was Downs who was the "prime consultant to Palmieri from the beginning, who was to serve on the five man committee" which drew up the report. The Downs document which emerged from this effort aggressively advocated federal policies to promote ghetto dispersal. [emphasis added] This dispersal strategy, developed by Downs and his military/police associates on the Commission, became the commission's dominant paradigm, and has consequently evolved into the operative strategy of the white elite and its corporate/civilian military in its "operations other than war" against domestic "dissidents." The US Army currently operates under the MOUT doctrine or Military Operations in Urban Terrain, along with MACDIS, or Military Assistance to Civil Disturbance.
The final report of the Kerner Commission includes Downs' (and the militarists') agenda. Chapters 16 and 17 of the report, which deal with housing, are obviously Downs' work. In fact, these chapters reflect the same points he laid out in even greater detail in an earlier Daedelus 1968 article entitled Alternative Futures for the American Ghetto. As for the final Kerner Report, Downs begins by warning that "By 1985, the Negro population in central cities is expected to increase by 68% to approximately 20.3 million...This growth will produce majority Negro populations in many of the nations largest cities. The future of these cities is grim...[italics added] This trend will continue unless important changes in public policy are made...Prospects for domestic peace and for the quality of American life are linked directly to the future of these cities." Therefore, "We believe that action of the kind outlined...can contribute substantially to control of disorders.... But there should be no mistake about the long run. The underlying forces continue to gain momentum."
"In fact," he continues, "Negro students already comprise more than a majority in the public elementary schools of the 13 cities" surveyed. "Unless there are sharp changes in those cities in the factors influencing Negro settlement patterns within major metropolitan areas [emphasis added], there is little doubt that the trend towards Negro majorities will continue." Further, the "rapid increase in the young Negro population has important implications for the country. This group has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, commits a relatively high proportion of all crimes and plays the most significant role in civil disorders." According to Downs, the solution lies in "creating strong incentives for Negro movement out of central city ghettos and enlarging freedom of choice[italics added] concerning housing, employment and schools." The aim is clear.
For Downs, "freedom of choice" amounts to "voluntary segregation" outside the cities. For the elite racists whom Downs represents, "the probability of civil disorders" must be faced. "Under these conditions, a rising proportion of Negroes in disadvantaged city areas might come to look upon the deprivation and segregation they suffer as proper justification for violent protest or for extending support to now isolated extremists who advocate civil disruption by guerilla tactics." In conclusion, the report goes on to recommend a "reorientation of federal housing funding away from the cities." "Spatial deconcentration," US military lingo for "ghetto dispersal," becomes part of the lexicon of HUD/NYC-HPD and other "housing" agencies. By 1974, the Congress had enacted the Community Development Act which promoted spatial deconcentration. In fact, more recently, "Title 1: Housing Assistance Section of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1992" ties "assistance" to the establishment of a "demonstration program to assist low-income families living in rental units in moving from areas of concentrated poverty."
In 1970 Downs wrote a little known book called Urban Problems and Prospects in which he more graphically detailed the theory of spatial deconcentration. He developed a bizarre concept in the book which he labeled the theory of middle class dominance. His later 1975 HUD sponsored study stated that "the inner cities...would be better cleared of services and residents and landbanked." Later on, the white middle class "would be allowed to repopulate these areas" through a process which has come to be known as "gentrification," the spatial re-consolidation and "reclaiming" of the land by white "pioneer" settlers.
In 1973 Downs published Opening Up the Suburbs: An Urban Strategy for America, in which he sought a "workable mechanism ensuring that whites will remain in the majority." In short, Downs would make white supremacy the public policy. As he stated in his 1968 Daedelus piece, "Many--especially Negroes--may deplore the racially prejudiced desire of most white middle class citizens to live in neighborhoods and use schools where other white middle class households are dominant. Nevertheless, this desire seems to be firmly entrenched among most whites at present." Further on, laying down the "law" of white supremacy, Downs affirms that "clearly, the dynamic processes related to this Law of Dominance are critical to any strategy concerning the future of the American ghettos," one which will "guarantee [to] the white majority that it will remain the dominant majority." In fact, "this implies some form of quotas concerning the proportion of nonwhites in the facility or area concerned--even legally supported quotas." [emphasis added] And for those who object to neo-Jim Crowism: "Considering economic factors alone, it would be far cheaper to repress future large scale urban violence through police and military action than it would be to pay for effective programs against remaining urban poverty. This might require abrogating the civil rights of many citizens deplorably. Yet, it could be done with little other inconvenience to the middle class."