Playboy: Do you think, as many law-enforcement officials have alleged, that looting and rioting are ever planned, in the same way that a civil rights march is planned, with the intention of forcing whites into remedial concessions?
Cosby: Looting and rioting are spontaneous things that happen with a crowd. They're not planned, coordinated actions. It all boils down to the fact that when the opportunity comes to get a free pair of pants or a television set, people go along with the crowd. If you were walking down a street and saw people running in and out of stores, getting away with things you never had -- getting away clean, too -- why not go in there and get that bicycle or sofa yourself? As far as rioting is concerned, let me put it to you this way: If a guy is walking along and all of a sudden a crowd of people comes up and they're shouting, the first thing he'll want to know is what they're yelling about -- right? Then he hears what they're yelling about; maybe a cop shot an unarmed black kid or police turned off fire hydrants black kids were using to beat 90-degree heat in the ghetto. Things like that have actually caused riots. The man may get pulled into that mob and listen to their statements and he may well join them. Now, a mob is like a pack of animals, man, and things like sniping and arson are liable to happen when a bunch of people, who are justifiably bitter and frustrated, are set off by an incident that finally exhausts all of their patience. But in riots where there's sniping going on, how come the cats who wind up getting killed are all unarmed black bystanders?
Playboy: Do you think looting and rioting will stop as soon as black people acquire a fair share of America's wealth?
Cosby: Absolutely. You know, when doctors have to treat a wound, they don't heal it by putting bacteria on it or by applying dirty bandages to it. The powers in this country know how to heal the race situation and they also know that, by doing so, they'd be solving the problems of our cities. When white people move out of the city, they're moving to better homes, better schools. Cities have no attractions to make people change their minds and move back. And even if the people do move back, where do they wind up living? In a lower-class ghetto area or next to one. So let's clean up the city's sores. And to clean them up, we need to make jobs available to the people who live there, who suffer and die there, who, like the middle-class whites who leave, also want to get out and live in better surroundings. If it means that we build factories in ghettos -- forget smog and air pollution and all that other crap for the moment -- then that's what we'll have to do. We'll have to build more hospitals and schools to improve the quality of ghetto life. That's the only way the city will be able to offer both its blacks and its whites the same things that are available in the suburbs; that's the only way people will stop leaving the city.
Playboy: Do you think urban-renewal programs can help?
Cosby: Urban renewal usually means that buildings are torn down, people are moved to another area and then, for years, all you have are empty lots. That's a fact. And black people ask themselves the same questions whites would ask in the situation: Where are the homes we were promised? Why did you chase us out of there in first place? How can any neighborhood become stable with this kind of thing going on?
Playboy: But some new public housing does get built in ghettos. Aren't these suitable places to live?
Cosby: Well, a project is a little better than that apartment you've lived in where the landlord won't fix anything. But you can build low-rent housing without having it look and feel like a steel-and-brick concentration camp. You can put more elevators in and make sure the elevators work, so that little kids playing in the street who have to go to the john don't have to wait 10 minutes for an elevator and wind up urinating in the lobbies.
Playboy: As you know, there are millions of whites who can't understand why a majority of black neighborhoods are so run-down and littered.
Cosby: Look, take a simple thing like garbage collection. You may have eight families living in what was once a one-family house -- because rents are high and because the jobs available to ghetto blacks don't pay well. You're going to get an awful lot of trash from this house, because all these people are living there. Each family goes out, does its shopping and contributes its share of garbage, so you'd expect there'd be at least twice as much collection as there was before. But there's usually half as much garbage collection and, at that, those eight families have it good, compared with most of the people who live in black neighborhoods.
Playboy: Do you think these conditions can be corrected through the poverty program?
Cosby: They could be, but they won't; I don't think that the poverty program can mean much when 70 percent of its bread goes into the pockets of the people who get paid to give it away. And now that poverty-program funds are under local supervision, it's become just another piece of political patronage. That's almost criminal.
Playboy: How do you think federal funds should be used to help clean up and eventually eliminate the ghettos?
Cosby: The first thing we should do is study the findings and recommendations of the Kerner Commission. I don't think any recent government study has been more valid -- or more ignored by the government -- than that report. The fact is that if certain buildings went up in the ghetto, they would supply jobs for thousands of black men. The second move also has to do with jobs; I think we should discontinue the summer work programs for kids and concentrate on men.
Cosby: White legislators think that as long as a kid's energy is spent and his time taken up, he'll be too tired to throw a bomb. But that's bullshit, because a kid's got more energy than a grownup. And I know, man. I used to play basketball from nine in the morning until the sun went down. But the truth of the matter is that no parent can command a kid's respect if the parent doesn't have a strong game going for himself -- if the father doesn't have a job. The kid will hear his mother chewing the old man out because he's not working. Or he'll hear them both moaning and groaning because there's no money coming in.
Listen, summertime should be when a kid can go out and hit that ball and swim and go hiking. Summertime is no books, no sitting in a classroom, and the biggest worry for parents is that their kid doesn't knock up somebody's daughter. I see summer as a time to have a ball, not a season to burn off energy so that you won't burn up the city. If the kid's working and the old man isn't, he's not the father, man; he's just an older guy who can beat you up. He can beat you up because he's bigger and stronger, but he certainly isn't anybody you can use as an example of what you want to be when you grow up.
So I believe all the job emphasis should be directed toward industrial corporations giving job-training programs to fathers who are out in the streets. If you take care of the father, then the kid has somebody to look up to. Black men don't need those dumb civic programs that send entertainers to perform in the ghetto every summer. Maybe they expect the cat in the audience to say to himself, "I enjoyed that show so much I'm not going to be militant anymore. As a matter of fact, that was such a good program that I don't care if I'm poor and can't get a job for the rest of my life. I'm gonna come early and get a better seat for next year's show. That is, if I don't starve to death between now and then."