In 2015, we have seen over-zealous police officers: choke Eric Garner to death for selling loose cigarettes; unload sixteen bullets in Laquan McDonald; shoot and kill Tamir Rice for playing with a toy gun in a state where it is legal to open carry a weapon; forcibly manhandle a teenage girl seated at her desk for using her cell phone; and scream at Sandra Bland that she will get “lit up” if she did not get out of her car after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation. She was later found dead in a jail cell. We have seen not just heard or read about these incidents caught on video. Better citizens than I have chosen to respond to these tragedies by exercising their right to protest police brutality as well as the lack of an adequate learning environment at institutions of higher learning.
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.
Our country’s collective response to Black Lives Matter protesters has not been with a proud heart. We have not credited these protesters, many of them young citizens, for continuing the traditions this great country was founded on. They are not commended for taking a stand against injustice. Rather, some media outlets have accused protesters of “promoting cop killing” for demanding accountability from those who are duty bound to serve and protect. A DOJ study has shown that in spite of police brutality, there has not been an increase in ambush police shootings. Presidential candidates have called these same citizens terrorists, but failed to do so against a racially motivated shooting in South Carolina church and the current occupation of federal land in Oregon by armed militia men. Students demanding that their university address concerns about feeling unsafe on campus have been accused of infantile behavior.
Perhaps most unfortunately, some have even hijacked Dr. Martin Luther King’s message in an effort to further quell these young voices. Television journalist, Diane Dimond, wrote: “Martin Luther King must be rolling in his grave.” Ms. Dimond continued in another article stating: “The rabble rousing group known as Black Lives Matter … If you really want to make a difference, study the history of civil rights and get a clue.” Former presidential candidate and ordained minister Mike Huckabee said, “I think [Dr. King] would be appalled by the notion that we’re elevating some lives above others.” Even Dr. King’s niece, Alveda King, went on television to suggest that these young voices distract from issues, notably saying that “All Lives Matter.”
The great stumbling block in [the] stride toward freedom is not…the Ku Klux Klanner, but [those] who [are] more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.
Dr. King aptly stated, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” He too was accused of provoking riots through his protests and sit-ins. Like Black Lives Matters protesters, he too was admonished for isolating those sympathetic to his cause with excessive demonstrations. Dr. King’s message was one of non-violence. There are those misguided souls who will grasp onto whatever they can in an effort to promote and produce violence and we should stand against it as often as we can, no matter the culprit. We should not, however, confuse non-violence with passivity. Dr. King spoke of non-violence, but he also spoke of the fierce urgency of now. He called for the need of immediate and vigorous action to combat the injustices of his time. “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed,” he said. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote that the goal of his demonstrations was “to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored.” He realized that the “great stumbling block in [the] stride toward freedom is not…the Ku Klux Klanner, but [those] who [are] more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefer a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly say: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.’”
As we remember Dr. King, we should not remember a passive voice willing to wait for a “more convenien[t] season” while the rest of the country warmed up to the idea of Civil Rights. We should remember a justifiably impatient American citizen willing to do anything and everything short of violence in order to make sure all his people were treated equally. We should remember Dr. King’s unquenchable desire to fight injustice and his refusal to accept the status quo. We should embrace the similarities between what he stood for and what the young voices of today are trying to effectuate, rather than faulting those voices for not being as organized or as eloquent as him.
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.