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The Illusion of Anti-Riot Legislation

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

The United States Congress has shown amazing insensitivity and lack of rational behavior in its response to the current racial violence in the cities. It has not acted to alleviate the conditions which have made such outbreaks possible; it has not set priorities for government spending; it has not introduced curative or preventive emergency legislation. Instead, it is hastily pushing anti-riot legislation that can only be characterized as irrelevant, futile, and more irritating than beneficial.

Less than a week ago, the House passed, 347-70, and sent to the Senate, a bill to prohibit the use of interstate facilities with the intent to incite a riot. The author of the bill, William C. Cramer (R-Fla.), quoted officials in several riot-torn cities who claimed that outsiders were either involved or responsible for the violence. Cramer said his bill was "aimed at those professional agitators" who travel from city to city and "inflame the people to violence" and then leave before trouble begins. Rules Committee Chairman William M. Colmer (D-Miss.) added that the riots were an "organized conspiracy, backed by the Communists." If this is permitted to go on unchecked, he declared, we "are going to have a nationwide state of anarchy."

That nationwide state of anarchy already exists, but even Representative Colmer would never assert that professional agitators raced from city to city, setting riots ablaze in over 30 communities at the same time. Emanual Celler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was closer to the basic reason for rioting in the ghettos when he cited "the discontent of the Negro, his disenchantment as to promises made but not fulfilled, the dreary pace by which he achieves equality." This bill has served only to arouse more deeply such frustrations and rage, for it does not relate to the basic issues--unemployment, poor housing, and shamefully inadequate education. The bill merely uses a few militants, such as Stokely Carmichael, as scapegoats.

What is most amazing about the anti-riot legislation is the complete illusion of many Congressmen who believe that they can solve the the problem without givin git top priority. The poverty program is in dire straits; the House has refused to enact legislation designed to protect civil rights workers; it has cut back the model cities program by $425 million; and it has denied funds for rent supplements. President Johnson says Vietnam should have top priority. Congress agrees. But Newark and Detroit tell a different story.

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