American Notes: Battle Fatigue

The town of Cairo, Ill., might be a reminder that no one group holds a franchise on violence. In Cairo, a decaying, Southern-oriented town of 8,000 people at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the nights have been punctuated for months by gunfire from blacks and whites alike. Property owned by both races has been fire-bombed in a long struggle over job discrimination.

Anomalously, both sides share a common hostility toward Cairo's 14-man police force—four of whom are black. As Police Chief Ray Burke explained: "White officers don't trust black officers; white citizens don't trust black officers; the...