We’ve all heard it — the more things change, the more they stay the same.
But perhaps not this time.
There is a great deal about the marches and protests, the violence, fires and looting that resemble marches and protests, violence, fires and looting of the past.
Yet this time things seem different.
This year’s protests began the way other protests began in years past. After wrongs and events yet again bring the nature of racial disparities to the nation’s attention, the victims decide they’ve had enough and take to the streets. The police and sometimes the National Guard move to break up the myriad of protests throughout the nation, and leaders of cities seeing the protests blame the ensuing violence on those ubiquitous “outside agitators.”
Events which led to recent local protests mirror similar occurrences in other cities — and in other times. Here at home, it was the March 13 shooting of Breonna Taylor, who had been asleep in her bed. In Atlanta, protests were triggered by the apparent vigilante slaying of Ahmaud Arbery and in Minneapolis it was the death of George Perry Floyd at the hands — and knee — of a police officer with a checkered past.
We’ve all seen too much violence, too many wrongful deaths at the hands of a handful of police, too much senseless looting and destruction.
And in some instances we’ve seen history repeating itself.
The Louisville riots of 1968 were the result of an open housing campaign that began two years earlier. The city’s African American community grew tired of being segregated from the rest of town. Grew tired of not being eligible for loans for houses in neighborhoods where only white people lived.
Like a pot of gumbo on low heat, it took a while for the city to come to a boil. But on May 27, 1968, that’s what happened. A protest at 28th and Greenwood erupted after some bottles were thrown from the roof of a corner building, popping on the pavement near a police car that had driven into the intersection. Seconds after the bottle shattered, bricks and rocks were thrown through nearby windows and by 9:30 p.m. that night, then-mayor Kenneth Schmied was calling for the National Guard.
When it was over, there had been 119 fires set, 472 people arrested, more than 50 people injured and two people killed.
When violence broke out in our city again seven years later, in September of 1975, the cause was what protesters called “forced busing,” a plan implemented by a federal court to desegregate Louisville and Jefferson County schools.
The cause of the ’75 riots to a large degree was caused by hate. Many white people in the suburbs didn’t want black students bused into their neighborhood schools, and they didn’t want their children sent across town to schools in black neighborhoods, either. The protest led to a bizarre situation.
The white protestors hated not only the black students but the police enforcing the busing order and the media reporting on the events. It was a scary time. Shots were fired into the local daily newspaper’s offices; a Jefferson County police officer lost an eye when someone shot a ball bearing with a slingshot. Fires were set, glass was broken. Sound familiar?
But this time seems different. Sure, the senseless violence is a remnant of the past. But now there are huge, peaceful protests, too. And many of the faces in the crowd are young — and white.
Deacon James Turner sums up the difference between “now and then” succinctly. “The older people know somewhat the history of their lives,” he said, and they know that society has been unwilling to confront that history. “The young people are looking more at what’s right and wrong. They see the injustices and they demand change.”
Are we at a tipping point? Are racial relations about to improve and is racial injustice about to become part of our national history and not our national future?
Both Pope Francis and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz have called for an end to racism — the pope even called it a “pro-life issue.” The archbishop said we need to find a way to remove racism “from that block that exists right now, a block that is sadly in our hearts.”
Leadership and lay people agree that the church should be at the forefront of efforts to end racism. It should.
And we should remember that we are the church.
Record Editor Emeritus