Ethnic Groups and Minorities Research Paper

Pages: 5 (1761 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Race

Ethnic Groups and Minorities

Though occurring seventy three years apart, the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 and the 1992 Los Angeles Riot are disturbingly similar. Not only did they have the same impact on their immediate communities, but they could both be traced to underlying attitudes in their communities, which were simmering long before the riots occurred. In fact, they both represent the impact of prejudice and discrimination caused by common misperceptions of their specific eras and illustrate the tensions which arise from those prejudices and misperceptions. Both examples further illustrate the outcome of political and police intervention or lack thereof. In addition, the media directly influenced both of these situations and could have been used more effectively in controlling these tensions rather than inciting them. It is my belief that by exhibiting a calming influence rather than an instigating stance, the media could have fended off these riots at best, and at worst mitigated the final outcomes.

The events of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 were well-known at their time, but since it occurred almost a century ago, most modern people have little understanding of the events that immediately precipitated the riots, nor an understanding of the underlying racial tensions that existed prior to those events. On July 27, 1919, a group of African-Americans were swimming in an area which was unofficially segregated. Purportedly, a lone white man began throwing rocks at the group. At least one young man was struck by a rock and ultimately lost his life as a result of this lone white man's actions. Rather than arresting this white man for perpetrating this crime, the police instead arrested an African-American man in his place. Not surprisingly, this infuriated the African-American population of Chicago and sparked an angry backlash.

As in common in many such situations, it was not this specific event which caused the social upheaval; the event was merely a catalyst. Rather, it was the underlying currents of racism, discrimination, and competition which were the true reasons for the turmoil. During this era, Chicago had a large population of Irish immigrants who had settled on the South side of Chicago in the lower income areas. They were in direct competition for jobs and housing with other European immigrants and the African-Americans who were also moving to Chicago in greater numbers. The Irish were extremely defensive of their social position and claimed this area as their own, defending it violently with organized groups when they felt threatened.

While competition between the Irish and other European immigrant groups could be tense and violent, the tension created by this competition for housing and jobs was exacerbated by the common misperceptions of the era regarding African-Americans. At the time it was commonly believed that "blacks were mentally inferior, immoral, emotional, and criminal; they were innately lazy, shiftless, boisterous, bumptious, and lacking in civic consciousness" (Henry, 2004, p.29). Therefore, many people did not believe that African-Americans should have the right to compete with whites for jobs or housing. Further escalating these rivalries was the fact that after World War I, many African-Americans were returning to Chicago after the war. These African-American veterans had experienced a greater degree of freedom abroad in the armed forces than they did at home. When they returned home, having risked their lives in service of their country, they were much more likely to be adamant about demanding their right to be treated equally regardless of their race. As such, they were much more vigilant when it came to defending and advocating for their civil rights. It was under this umbrella of prejudice, discrimination, and competition that this riot erupted.

Unfortunately, the initial arrest by the police of an African-American for the crime committed against the young African-American was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. At that time, the Chicago police force was almost completely comprised of white men. Furthermore, Chicago's police force had a high concentration of Irish. Even after the initial mistake of arresting an African-American for the assault, which was committed by a white man, the police could have mitigated the scenario by seeking the actual perpetrator. However, rather than do, the police contributed further to the problem by refusing to do anything against the bands of white aggressors in the riot. Predominantly, it was these groups of whites (mainly Irish) who were the instigators in the assaults, arson, and murders with the African-Americans merely defending themselves in a violent atmosphere. In fact of the thirty eight deaths, twenty three were African-American while only fifteen were white (Henry, 2004, p.23). Additionally, five hundred thirty seven were injured with roughly two thirds of that number being African America (Sandburg, 2005).

It was this lack of immediate police intervention coupled with the media coverage that prolonged the riot. With the majority of the aggressions being carried out by whites, the police turned a blind eye and refused to arrest the perpetrators (White, 1919). On top of that, the media paid undue attention to injuries sustained by white police officers and white firemen further flaming the common misperceptions of the time and exacerbating an already tumultuous situation (White, 1919). Many days later, and not until the National Guard was deployed to the area, was order restored and the violence ended (New York Times, 1919). Ultimately, though admittedly the aggressors in most of the violence, not a single white man was indicted as a result of their actions during this riot.

Like the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, the 1992 Los Angeles Riots were spurred by a single incident yet really caused by prejudice and discrimination. In 1991, Rodney King was beaten by three white and one Hispanic police officers. This unwarranted use of force against an African-American man was videotaped and splashed across the media. Anyone who watched television, watched TV, or listened to the radio was aware of the beating. These officers were later tried for the offense and acquitted of any wrongdoing. After viewing the beating and hearing of the acquittal it was incontestable that a social injustice had occurred and African-Americans (as well as many others) were incensed. Wide spread violence erupted in South Central Los Angeles as a result of the verdict in LA within hours of the verdict. South Central Los Angeles is comprised mostly of African-Americans and Hispanics, but also is represented by an Asian community including a large faction of Korean-Americans. The violence contagion affected all of these groups as well as whites.

There was widespread media coverage of the violence including beating by groups of young African-Americans against white people, looting, arson, and Korean shopkeepers arming themselves and standing guard outside of their property. The Koreans claimed they had to arm themselves as the police failed to protect them and their property (just as the African-Americans had claimed seventy years earlier in Chicago). Noteworthy, is the fact that roughly fifty percent of those arrested in the upheaval were Hispanic, and one third of those killed were Hispanic (Kwong, 1992, p.89). Racial tensions ran high with Ethnic Groups banding together against one another claiming the need to protect what was theirs.

While the riot raged for several days, the authorities (like in Chicago) took action to stem the violence and unrest. The airport was shut down, the trains were shut down, mass transit was shut down, and even some freeways were closed. Police were deployed (some say to no avail) and finally, the National Guard was called in to stop the rioting. Rodney King himself, in an attempt to stop the turbulence, was shown on television stating, "People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along" (Keyes, 2006, p.22). Like in the Chicago instance, the President came forward to denounce the violence as well. However, after the Los Angeles riots of 1992, the President of the United States came forward and promised justice for Rodney King and it came in the way of guilty verdicts for some of the original police initially charged with his beating (Bush, 1992). Though again, there did not seem to be any meaningful social programs to eliminate these racial tensions in the future.

Unfortunately, the nation as a whole, though clearly understanding there had been an injustice done to Rodney King, did not understand the problem as a whole. In fact the prevailing sentiment (misconception), is that a large portion of Americans believe that "Blacks are as well off as whites in terms of their jobs, incomes, schooling and health care" (Morin, 2001). It is this commonly held misperception which further enhances the already existing problems of prejudice and discrimination. Many whites believe that plans to eliminate discrimination are wrongly provided to a group (African-Americans) who no longer need them thereby offering them a competitive advantage over whites.

With that in mind, it is plain to see that we, as a people, are a long way from eliminating racial prejudice and discrimination and therefore eliminating the possibility of racial violence in the future. Frankly, the only… [END OF PREVIEW]

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