In the 1980s and ‘90s I witnessed, and in “The Closest of Strangers” I condemned, some of the most counterproductive black American urban protests since the riots of the 1960s. Public paroxysms associated with names such as Bernhard Goetz, Howard Beach, Tawana Brawley, Rodney King, Crown Heights and O.J. Simpson were psychodramas staged to demand “justice” through lies, vilification of innocent parties and intimidation of critics with legitimate differences of opinion.
By comparison, the protests of today’s Black Lives Matter movement and of college students demanding to be kept “safe” and “loved” by liberal educators seem at best plaintive. Even liberal observers, such as Todd Gitlin, a veteran and chronicler of 1960s protests, and Jeannie Suk, a Harvard Law professor, note that today’s demonstrators seem to have missed the freer, wiser parenting and the civic-republican premises, practices and virtues of an earlier time, resources that the civil rights movement summoned to move honorable conservatives in the late 1950s and ‘60s.