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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

THE LONG HOT SUMMER OF 2012

- A perfect storm for violence?

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The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a hotter than normal summer, particularly in the Southwest, Southeast, and Atlantic seaboard up to and including New York City and Philadelphia. Between the temperatures and a country bitterly divided over racial, ideological and socioeconomic (class) differences, we may be looking at the perfect storm for violence this summer. In many ways, it may be reminiscent of Watts in 1965, Chicago in 1968, and Kent State in 1970, three ugly chapters in our country's history. If the 60's taught us anything, violence can easily erupt despite the best intentions for peaceful and nonviolent protests.

Incidents such as the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida, the Wisconsin budget battle in 2011, and the Occupy Wall Street movement give strong evidence of how contentious the issues are, the mood of the people, and the fragility of peace. Throw in a hot summer, high gasoline prices and unemployment rates, an election in the Fall, a sensational press, and you have all of the makings for a potential disaster in the next few months.

There are three flash points to watch out for: first, the Supreme Court's verdict regarding Obamacare. Whichever direction it goes, one side or the other will not be happy which will establish the tone of discontent for the summer. The second flash point is the Occupy Wall Street convention scheduled for July 4th in Philadelphia. This is where thousands of people will descend on Philly to lend support to their general assembly which aims to draft and ratify a "petition for a redress of grievances" to be presented to the government for action. Although it sounds peaceful in design, it could easily erupt into violence if the movement takes to the streets where they will likely face a showdown with police. The GOP and Democratic conventions represent the third flash point, first in Tampa on August 27th-30th (GOP), closely followed by Charlotte on September 4th-6th (Democrats). The Tampa and Charlotte police departments will undoubtedly be prepared for demonstrators. Nevertheless, a large number of protestors could present a serious challenge to their ability to maintain law and order, particularly in a hot summer.

These three incidents can be anticipated and contingency plans prepared, but there also exists the possibility of an unplanned incident igniting violence, particularly if it is somehow racially or religiously motivated, such as the death of an African-American, Latino, Muslim or some other group. Also, a confrontation between two disparate groups could prove disastrous, such as between Occupiers and Tea Partiers, or black and white extremists. Inflammatory rhetoric may also produce problems, particularly in the areas of voter identification, immigration, race relations, and anything pertaining to class warfare. Consider the words of Rev. Al Sharpton, "So if you won't get the jobs bill done in the suite, then we will get the jobs bill done in the street!" Then there is the matter of the New Black Panther Party who called for a $10,000 bounty on the head of the shooter of Trayvon Martin who went into hiding. Such examples are suggestive of a country moving away from the rule of law to anarchy.

Fanning the flames of protest is, of course, the media who realizes this makes for excellent political theater, and fills their coffers. A little restraint by the media would go a long way to maintaining the peace, but I cannot imagine this happening as the press has proven to be quite irresponsible in this regard.

You certainly cannot envy the burden placed on the shoulders of the police. We've come a long way from the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago where the police and protesters fought bloody battles. There have been many new techniques and tools developed for crowd control, and I tend to believe the police are smarter today, but if they are pushed too far by demonstrators, don't be surprised if extreme force is applied to maintain control.

I will be the first to hope I am dead wrong in my prophecy, that cooler heads and peace will prevail, but frankly I think plans have already been set into motion to prove violence is not only likely, but inevitable. Let us hope this division of the American people is only a temporary condition and doesn't lead to a an overall fracture of the country as in the days leading up to the Civil War.

It's been 47 years since Watts, 44 years since Chicago, and 42 years since Kent State. To young Americans, these events are nothing but obscure footnotes in our history with little meaning, but to the rest of us who lived through this period, they are an important reminder of the dangers of violence. So, as we watch our thermometers go up this summer, let us hope we have the wisdom not to allow history to repeat itself.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.