Black History Month Installment: Contrasting Past and Present African American Protest Movements

Feb 12, 2016

A Syracuse University scholar in the area of civil unrest among African Americans sees some similarities…and differences in protests from the civil rights era to the present.  In this next installment celebrating black history month, WAER News looks at the issues that lead to unrest, and if they’re being addressed.

Casarae Gibson is Assistant Professor of African American Studies at Syracuse University.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

  Assistant Professor of African American studies Casarae Gibson has studied race and rebellion in African American culture from the 1960’s to the 1990’s.  She says the recent protests over police-involved shootings of civilians reminded her of a 1964 riot in Harlem sparked by a man shot and killed by a police lieutenant…who was acquitted and never reprimanded. 

"Those types of scenarios or examples are some of the same issues of discontent that protesters of today are participating in, such as Black Lives Matter."

  Gibson says the narrative of police brutality and misconduct entered the national consciousness again in the 1990’s with the beating of Rodney King and the riots that followed the acquittal of four officers in Los Angeles.  She says the pattern continues…but today, there’s some context.

"What is different now is that people have become fed up with it to the point where now they're saying we need to revisit these old cases...while also thinking about these new cases and 'how do we deal with this issue of police misconduct, police brutality, it is getting out of hand.'  I think that is what many of the civil rights movements are doing now, they're really tackling this issue."

But Gibson says government…not so much.  Despite Brown vs. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act, she says the lack of additional congressional action still leaves in place systemic discrimination.

"How people treat each other on the issue of bias is something that is still of concern.  That is being addressed within this issue of how police, on their day-to-day jobs, are handling civilians, and vice versa, how civilians are responding to that type of interaction."