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Political scientist's book warns
of uprisings if cities ignored
February 1, 1999

The urban civil disturbances of the 20th century are not isolated incidents devoid of meaning, says Daryl Harris, assistant professor of political science. And he warns that conditions are ripe for further uprisings, if urban needs are not addressed.

Like the slave revolts of the 17th through 19th centuries, these "rebellions are displays of violent resistance against the dynamics of Euro-American domination," he says.

In his new book, The Logic of Black Urban Rebellions: Challenging the Dynamics of White Domination in Miami, Harris examines the influence of political, economic, and social conditions on black attitudes and why some black people have challenged these conditions using violence.

"When the legitimate avenues of participating in the political system are non-effective, people will turn to other means to get their voices heard," Harris says. "This is reflected in the rebellions of the 1960s and in Miami in the 1980s."

Injustice set the stage for the first major uprising in Miami in 1980, for example, he says. "In 1979, there were major cases of police brutality that the criminal justice system did not pursue with vigor. Arthur McDuffie was beaten and killed by at least 12 police officers, four of whom were charged; an 11 year-old black girl was molested by a state trooper; a school teacher was brutalized. When the police officers in the McDuffie case were acquitted by an all-white jury, the black community was outraged. Within a matter of hours there was a major explosion of violence."

In his book, to be published next month by Praeger Publishers of Westport, Harris criticizes the existing research on urban unrest, and offers a different perspective. "Most studies have not put the historical and cultural experience of African- Americans at the center of their analysis," he says. "I contend that the occurrence of black urban rebellion, such as the uprising in Miami and those of the 1960s, represent a tactical response to contemporary forms of white domination." They are acts in which key core values of the African-American experience, such as resistance, self-determination and freedom are sustained, he says.

Although some studies have recognized the element of protest in civil unrest, says Harris, "this analysis differs from those in that it contextualizes black violence as a contributory component to the long-standing African-American freedom movement."

Harris gives an overview of racial violence in the U.S. from the days of slavery to the present period of interracial and group violence.

The possibility of violence is always there because of the level of deprivation in the cities, Harris says. "As long as there is the continuing problem of discrimination, exploitation, police brutality, you are one affront away from an explosion."

We can anticipate more urban uprisings in the future, Harris says. The recipe for violence is there: a conservative policy period, the shift from an industrial economy to a technological one that is not likely to be enjoyed by those living in urban areas, and the departure of industry jobs from urban to suburban areas.

Urban issues, including health care, housing and education, need to be addressed, he says. "Urban America is forgotten. With few opportunities to enjoy the abundance of the society, what options will they have to have their issues addressed in the social system if all other avenues have been exhausted? People will rise up and strike for justice."

Sherry Fisher