Experts Score Report's Assumptions
(Last in a series)
The Riot Report's severest critics argue that sloppy research leads the Commission to base its Report on many questionable assumptions. Lending such assumptions the prestigious stamp of a Presidential Committee may in fact make violence more probable, they say.
Thus, Edward C. Banfield, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government, points out that the Report does not do an adequate job of proving that Negroes riot because they feel they are being mistreated rather than for other reasons. (In a forthcoming book Banfield seeks to show that Negroes riot "mainly for Fun and Profit"--the title of the chapter dealing with urban disorders). Treating the first theory as self-evident truth can become a rationale for more violence by inferring that Negroes have a perfect right, indeed an obligation to riot, Banfield says.
Another adverse consequence of the Report is that "such incessant protestations of guilt are going to reinforce feelings among Negroes that they are helpless against the overwhelming prejudice that exists among whites," Banfield said. He stresses that it is impossible to address whites without the Negro listening in and convincing him of the importance of racial factors.
James Q. Wilson, associate professor of Government, adds other reasons for criticising the Report. Stressing white guilt may lead many to shrug off the Report as did presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon. By failing to make it clear that the government does not condone violence, Wilson believes the Report will encourage whites to take the law in their own hands in order to protect themselves. In proof, he points to the many white suburbanites now stockpiling weapons and learning to shoot.
Secondly, the Report should have gone on to make very clear recommendtions for action, Wilson says. To be effective it should have listed a very limited number of programs. As it is, the Report makes several suggestions but does not set up any system of priorities. Such tactics, Wilson added, can only dilute whatever effect it could otherwiise have hoped for.
There is sharp disagreement among Harvard's urbanologists on this last point. The final report had a strong impact, because the composition of the Commission made it look "safe" "Establishment people, businessmen, a police chief, Republicans," one Harvard commentator described the Commissioners.
Supporters point to the extended publicity with which the report was received. Several papers have run ths summary, now being serialized on the editorial pages of the Boston Globe and more than one million paperback copies have been sold commercially. They point to the Senate, which after two unsuccessful attempts passed the Open Housing bill 71 to 20, immediately after the Commission released the Report.
More action it is agreed, is to be expected on the local than on the national level, mostly notably in New York where Lindsay has vowed to champion the Report. Whether or not the Report is a step towards curing the "white man's sickness' 'and whether it will help prevent more violence are open questions, and nowhere more so than at Harvard