THIS MORNING I have welcomed the members of the Commission on Civil Disorders to the White House for its first meeting. The Commission is chaired by Governor Kerner of Illinois. The Vice Chairman is Mayor Lindsay of New York. They are both here with me.
I have commended these 11 citizens for what they have agreed to do for this Nation. They are undertaking a responsibility as great as any in our society.
The civil peace has been shattered in a number of cities. The American people are deeply disturbed. They are baffled and dismayed by the wholesale looting and violence that has occurred both in small towns and in great metropolitan centers.
No society can tolerate massive violence, any more than a body can tolerate massive disease. And we in America shall not tolerate it.
But just saying that does not solve the problem. We need to know the answers, I think, to three basic questions about these riots:
--Why did it happen?
--What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?
Beyond these basic questions there are others--the answers to which can help our Governors and our mayors, our chiefs of police, and our citizens all over the country to cope with their immediate and their long-range problems of maintaining order:
--Why riots occur in some cities and do not occur in others?
--Why one man breaks the law, while another, living in the same circumstances, does not?
--To what extent, if any, there has been planning and organization in any of the riots?
--Why have some riots been contained before they got out of hand and others have not?
--How well equipped and trained are the local and State police, and the State guard units, to handle riots?
--How do police-community relationships affect the likelihood of a riot--or the ability to keep one from spreading once it has started?
--Who took part in the riots? What about their age, their level of education, their job history, their origins, and their roots in the community?
--Who suffered most at the hands of the rioters?
--What can be done to help innocent people and vital institutions escape serious injury?
--How can groups of lawful citizens be encouraged, groups that can help to cool the situation?
--What is the relative impact of the depressed conditions in the ghetto--joblessness, family instability, poor education, lack of motivation, poor health care--in stimulating people to riot?
--What Federal, State, and local programs have been most helpful in relieving those depressed conditions?
--What is the proper public role in helping cities repair the damage that has been done?
--What effect do the mass media have on the riots?
What we are really asking for is a profile of the riots--of the rioters, of their environment, of their victims, of their causes and effects.
We are asking for advice on:
--short-term measures that can prevent riots,
--better measures to contain riots once they begin, and
--long-term measures that will make them only a sordid page in our history.
I know this is a tall order.
One thing should be absolutely clear: This matter is far, far too important for politics. It goes to the health and safety of all American citizens--Republicans and Democrats. It goes to the proper responsibilities of officials in both of our parties. It goes to the heart of our society in a time of swift change and of great stress. I think the composition of this Commission is proof against any narrowness or partisanship.
You will have all the support and cooperation you need from the Federal Government, as the Chairman and the Vice Chairman lead this Commission in this study.
Sometimes various administrations have set up commissions that were expected to put the stamp of approval on what the administration believed.
This is not such a commission. We are looking to you, not to approve our own notions, but to guide us and to guide the country through a thicket of tension, conflicting evidence, and extreme opinions.
So, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Vice Chairman, let your search be free. Let it be untrammeled by what has been called the "conventional wisdom." As best you can, find the truth, the whole truth, and express it in your report.
I hope you will be inspired by a sense of urgency, but also conscious of the danger that lies always in hasty conclusions.
The work that you do ought to help guide us not just this summer, but for many summers to come and for many years to come.