Cooper: Headlines tell us the problems from 50 years ago are the same ones we're facing today

George Floyd's name is written on the windshield as John Coy wears a shirt that reads Black Lives Matter and stands through his sunroof with his fist in the air at 16th Street Northwest renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, Friday, June 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

What's with all the demonstrations and destruction?

Can't these kids find something better to do?

How dangerous is this seemingly powerful Black organization?

The aforementioned aren't the headlines of today, though the questions are surely being asked in some homes across the country. These questions were raised and discussed in news stories in newspapers 50 years ago this week.

We might say the more things change, the more they stay the same, but that does not take into account the many ways the country has changed since July 1970, especially about how much information to which we have access, the transmission of that information, and the diversity of our people and culture.

So it may be sobering to some, but comforting to others, to know that demonstrations and destruction didn't bring down the U.S., that our young people eventually did find better things to do than express their grievances and that a Black organization that was perceived to be a threat ultimately had few teeth in achieving militant goals.

But it's interesting to look at what our thinking was 50 years ago.

While today people are tearing down monuments and statues and defacing public and private property, in 1970 they were bombing federal facilities. The previous year, according to testimony before a U.S. Senate committee, bombings of such buildings increased 170% and bomb threats by 750%.

During a recent 15-month period, 43 people had been killed in such bombings, nearly 400 injured and a million dollars damage (more than $7.2 million in 2020) wrought.

The domestic terrorism, according to Lt. Kenneth O'Neill, bomb squad chief of the New York City Police Department, was likely to get worse before it got better.

Helping fuel that, he said, were bomb-making plans that appear in underground newspapers, magazines and leaflets, distributed especially among college, high school and, recently, junior high school students.

Even with the internet and social media, the deaths and injuries from today's wanton destruction fortunately are fewer, but deaths and injuries in larger U.S. cities are on the rise in the wake of movements to defund police or scale back policing activities.

Meanwhile that July, a prominent California college president had a solution for what he said were the bored and immature young men and women of 50 years ago: two or three years of compulsory federal duty beginning at age 18.

S.I. Hayakawa, president of San Francisco State College, said two or three years in the "real world" would make young people more likely to come to college with "a clear-cut purpose in mind."

"Students over 22, over 32, over 52," he said, "are almost always our best students. The young ones are bored. The bored student is social dynamite. Bright students ... have been the principal troublemakers."

Hayakawa - later a one-term senator from California - said the fault laid partially with middle-class parents who believed - as many baby boomers were told - that college was necessary, that it was the key to success, that the lack of college education would leave their children behind.

Finally in the second decade of the 21st century are government officials, educational administrators and parents realizing that, in fact, college isn't for everybody, and that people who work in trades and offer a service can be as much as or more of a success than college graduates.

Though today's pampered 18-year-olds would laugh us out of the room, we're also not so sure Hayakawa's two years of compulsory federal duty wouldn't be a toughening, enlightening rounding out for many high school graduates.

Other educators in the hearing of the President's Commission on Campus Unrest at which the college president spoke pooh-poohed his suggestion and said the end of the then-raging Vietnam war would change everything. It didn't, of course.

Elsewhere, in FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's annual report for the year ending June 30, 1970, he charged that the Black Panther party, which he said was being financed in part by prominent donors, was the "most dangerous and violence prone of all extremist groups."

He said contributions from the prominent donors have enabled the party "to spread their doctrine of hate and revolution and further aggravate the volatile situation on our campuses." He added that the party had developed close ties to an Arab guerrilla organization that has resulted in a "flood of ... anti-Semitic propaganda."

Today, the Blacks Lives Matter organization has been criticized for its anti-family, anti-Semitic and anti-U.S. stances. And now, as the Black Panthers party was then, it is being funded by prominent donors in spreading what many say is hateful and destructive rhetoric.

If all this tells us anything, it's that even as life improves for the great majority, gaps remain where people are unfulfilled, unsatisfied and unfairly treated. So the goal going forward must be to fill those gaps while separating the real need from the blatant bombast.