Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs
On April 4, 1968, a nation wounded both by the Vietnam War and the divisions it had created, and by outbreaks of civil unrest in its cities, faced the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Pent-up anger and frustration in the African-American community led to rioting, looting and arson that destroyed vast swaths of neighborhoods in Washington, DC, Chicago, Kansas City, Newark and Baltimore. In New York City, it was a different story. Because Mayor John Lindsay and his staff had built relationships with the African-American community, Lindsay was able to travel to Harlem after the assassination and help calm an angry crowd, greatly limiting the damage done. To learn more about the night of April 4 in Harlem, see the video interview with Lindsay aide, Sid Davidoff.
Unfortunately, little has been learned from 1968 as can be seen from the horrifying events surrounding the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed, young black man in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. This and the events that followed have brought systemic American racism to the forefront. While there are many causes for the racism that led up to Michael Brown’s death, one of them was a lack of communication between the predominantly white local government police force and the African-American community. Lindsay intuitively understood the importance of building these relationships, something that has been forgotten as American police departments have become increasingly militarized.