On Feb. 29, 1968, the President’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known informally as the Kerner Commission, reported on the underlying causes for unrest happening in Chicago, Cleveland, and other major cities across the country. Systemic racism, inequality, and injustice were to blame, the report stated.
Just seven months prior, in July 1967, President Lyndon Johnson had formed the commission to better understand what exactly was happening and why and to make recommendations about preventing future occurrences. Input to the commission was to take two forms: testimony from outside stakeholders and experts, and social science research, which eventually became the supplemental studies to the Kerner Commission.
“Social scientists were brought in to collect data so the report would be fact-based,” says Penn’s Richard Berk, who was then a sociology doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and is today a professor of criminology and statistics. “There were about 20 graduate students who were tasked with this work. I was one of them.”
Following the death of George Floyd this past May, Black Lives Matter protests—most of them peaceful—erupted in large cities and small towns across the United States, even amidst a pandemic. It’s clear, Berk says, that more than 50 years after the Kerner Commission report, many of the same issues still plague this country. He explains that and more to Penn Today.