As Ferguson completes two weeks of protests, violence, and response by police and the National Guard, Missouri's Gov. Jay Nixon's much-criticized handling of the crisis is increasingly contrasted with how the late Gov. Warren Hearnes dealt with their state's last major urban upheaval 46 years ago.
What makes this contrast especially newsworthy is that Hearnes was also a Democrat and that his strongest praise for responding differently than Nixon to violence in Kansas City in 1968 is coming from Republicans in the Show Me State.
"Gov. Hearnes acted decisively and Kansas City experienced four days of on-again, off-again violence, and then it was over," recalled Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, who in 1992 won his first term in the state senate by defeating Hearnes wife, Democrat Betty Hearnes. "Right now, well, you see things in Ferguson are quite different."
Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in April, 1968, Kansas City became one of more than one hundred American cities that erupted in rioting, bombing and looting. Violence in Kansas City took six lives and injured 86 other persons. Fires caused an estimated $500,000 in damage in the predominantly black part of the city. (At the time, Kansas City had a population of about 600,000, 20% of whom were black).
Hearnes responded swiftly. On his orders, more than 200 Missouri State Highway Patrol officers arrived in Kansas City on April 9 to help quell the rioting. They were part of a special detail that operated for ten days from a command and communications post at Kansas City Police Department headquarters.
Hearnes also promptly dispatched more than 1,500 National Guardsmen to Kansas City.
Bob Davis, who was in the National Guard at time, recalled for the blog mytreasurespot.com: "…[S]everal of us were called and asked to transport some of our unit's vehicles that were needed in Kansas City. … As we reached the outskirts of Kansas City the convoy stopped and we were all issued ammunition. This was by direct order of Governor Warren Hearnes, a Democrat.
"…It was well known that in most cases Guardsmen were sent into situations of this nature with no ammo. We were all surprised to get ammo and it was mighty comforting to have those 5 clips tucked away."
Hearnes worked closely with fellow Democrat and Kansas City Mayor Ilus Davis and a dawn-to-dusk curfew was imposed. As the Daily Iowan reported on April 12, "The streets, except for the police, were almost deserted as the curfew went into effect at 7 P.M. Street lights were out in many sections of the east side…. [P]police cars were patrolling with only their parking lights on as a protection against snipers."
In what would be a 1968 version of the "militarization" of local police in Ferguson that is heavily reported today, the Iowan noted that [f]our men rode in each car and the windows bristled with riot guns and other armaments."
After four days, relative calm returned to Kansas City. The curfew was lifted and the National Guard and Highway Patrol were withdrawn. Hearnes was considered a fighter for civil rights and had signed civil rights legislation as governor. But when he ran for re-election in 1968, he was roundly criticized for his Kansas City actions in the black community and by such liberals as Sue Hart, chairman of the biracial Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
One pamphlet circulated by the Liberators' Committee for Representative Government, the political arm of the militant Black Liberators of St. Louis, was entitled "Negroes, don't be no fool." At the bottom, the circular read: "stop Gov. Hearnes and the honkey cops from killing our women and children! Vote against Hearnes on November 5, 1968." …Standing behind the desk was a devil-like, Uncle Sam figure, with fangs, tail, patriotic top hat, with coat-tails that read 'Gov. Hearnes.'"
Hearnes never apologized for his actions in Kansas City that year. In November, as Richard Nixon narrowly won Missouri's electoral votes and Democrat Tom Eagleton won a very close race for U.S. Senator, Hearnes won re-election with more than 60% of the vote over a strong Republican opponent, former St. Louis County Executive Lawrence K. Roos.
Republican Kinder, the only statewide official to attend Michael Brown's funeral in Ferguson yesterday, told Newsmax that "Gov. Hearnes had a dusk-to-dawn curfew. He was decisive, swift, and delivered a solution to Kansas City. Gov. Nixon waited eight days to impose a curfew and the curfew was ridiculous — from midnight to 5 a.m. He was tentative, uncertain, halting and herky-jerky."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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