Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most prominent figures of the Civil Rights era. His name is synonymous with fighting against discrimination, institutionalized racism, and social injustices. Martin Luther King Jr. has famously advocated for nonviolent resistance for his whole career as a Civil Rights activist. After being inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, King eventually went on a trip to India which furthered his nonviolent beliefs. Also, this trip fueled his commitment to fighting social injustice in America. “As I delve deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform” (King). His career fighting social injustice started in 1955, as the iconic leader of the freedom struggle during the Montgomery bus boycott. He was only twenty six years old. Eventually, Martin Luther King Jr. became a prominent figure in many protests, such as the Birmingham campaign and the March on Washington. His nonviolent approach paired very well with his charismatic and respectable persona.
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. passed away just fifty years ago. His memory will live on through the countless amount of minds he has inspired and will continue to inspire. While America has made substantial strides in the right direction since Martin Luther King Jr.,’s unfortunate and untimely death, many of the same injustices King was fighting against still exist in contemporary society. Black people and other minority races are still suffering from institutionalized racism, social discrimination, and economic inequality. There are many parallels between contemporary society and the time period of the Civil Rights movement. The past year has been a time of extreme unrest in the United States of America. The killing of unarmed Black men by law enforcement has been a problem that has been brought to the attention of the masses, especially the Black Lives Matter movement. The lack of police accountability paired with the increasing number of these unjust killings have led to widespread outrage from the citizens of the United States. In May of 2020, protests broke out in Minnesota, and spread across the county. Some cities have experienced looting, rioting, and violence from both protestors and law enforcement. Some have questioned the tactics of the protestors, while others have praised them for standing up for what they believe in. Also, some feel as if the violence in the protests were inevitable, due to the repeated instances of injustice. If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, he would definitely have mixed feelings about the protests.
Since the beginning of time, history has always repeated itself. In 1992, the beating of Rodney King by law enforcement led to the Los Angeles riots. Almost thirty years later, similar events are still taking place in the United States. Police brutality towards Black people has always been present in the United States of America. However, the rise of technology and social media has allowed these instances of abuse to be captured and spread worldwide. On May 25th, 2020, police officers responded to a suspected forgery of a twenty dollar bill in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Officers arrived at the scene and were told that the suspect was a forty six year old Black man named George Floyd, who had a daughter. After police officer Derek Chauvin handcuffed and brought Mr. Floyd to the ground, Chauvin began kneeling on the back of his neck. After kneeling on his neck for three minutes, Mr. Floyd’s body stopped moving and he stopped talking. Derek Chauvin proceeded to kneel on the back of Mr. Floyd’s neck for four more minutes until the ambulance arrived. George Floyd was pronounced dead at the hospital. This horrible event was captured via cellphone from a bystander, and the video quickly spread through social media. People of every race, especially Black people, were outraged by this tragic event. Also, the very recent shooting of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbey only added to the growing tensions. Plus, the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Philando Castille had not been forgotten either. The protests were a result of the culmination of all of these events. The killing of George Floyd was simply the final straw.
On May 26th, the day after George Floyd’s murder, a makeshift memorial was made at the intersection where Mr. Floyd passed away. Saint Paul residents and the family of George Floyd called all of the officers present at the scene to be arrested for murder. Eventually, a protest ensued and many people began to gather at the memorial. The leaders of the protest insisted on keeping things peaceful throughout the entirety of the day. Later in the evening, the group of protesters decided to march towards the Minneapolis Police Department’s third precinct station where they believed the officers were working. As tensions began to arise, a separate group of people numbering in the hundreds gathered and began to spray paint the building, throw rocks, and create lots of chaos. The peaceful protesters began fighting with the non peaceful protesters, which led to even more commotion. Eventually, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, which led to more tensions between citizens and law enforcement. The next day, violent and nonviolent protests became a nationwide occurrence, most notably in Memphis and Los Angeles. By June, every one of the fifty states had a protest and the U.S. Military was called upon to keep the peace. It is the largest United States military event other than war ever recorded. On June 3rd, the President of the United States said, “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem.” At least two hundred cities had imposed curfews due to the violence and chaos. Some of the most violent protests took place in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Michigan. Violent protesters began lighting buildings aflame, smashing windows, flipping over cars, and robbing and looting businesses. In Detroit, a nineteen year old man was killed after he was fatally shot by an unknown gunman who fired into a crowd of protestors. Also, another man in Chicago was fatally shot by an unknown gunman. At least nineteen people have died during the George Floyd protests. Unfortunately, there have been many instances of police brutality during these protests. According to Shalia Dewan of the New York Times, there have been many instances of police using “batons, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets on protestors, bystanders, and journalists, often without warning or seemingly unprovoked.” The police claim that these tactics are necessary to keep the peace and control to protestors. According to Meg Kelly and Elyse Samuels of The Washington Post, at least fourteen thousand protesters have been arrested across forty nine cities nationwide for minor offences such as curfew violations and failure to disperse. The tensions between police and protesters at the George Floyd protests perfectly encapsulate the genesis of the protests themselves.
The protests were not met with widespread approval from spectators. Many felt as if the protestors were acting irrationally and erratically. These people felt as if the looting and the violence simply were not justified by the protests. For example, some believed that the protestors were exceptionally cruel when vandalizing small businesses. According to the Small Business Administration, small businesses employ close to sixty million people, almost half of the labor force. According to an article written by Fox Business, “Tense standoffs between protesters and police have sometimes descended into destruction; looters targeted small businesses, along with big retailers such as Target, Apple and Lululemon, smashing windows, burning property, and stealing goods.” Between the dates of May 26th and June 8th, damages from the protests were estimated in the range from one to two billion dollars. Also, this was the week that many businesses began to reopen after being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, I believe that he would both support and be critical of the George Floyd protests. Martin Luther King Jr has always advocated for peaceful protests and nonviolent resistance when it comes to fighting for social justice. In the words of the Reverend, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.” There is no doubt in my mind that Martin Luther King Jr. would be walking alongside the peaceful protesters during these protests. However, I do believe that Martin Luther King Jr. would be critical of the violent protestors who were unnecessarily commiting horrendous acts such as looting, arson, and even assault. According to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Martin Luther King Jr believes that the act of committing violence during protests will undermine the actual protest itself. However, I also believe that Martin Luther King Jr. would understand that the sheer brutality of the protests was inevitable. I believe that he would understand that people simply have had enough of the repeated instances of injustice in the United States of America. Honestly, I do believe that Martin Luther King Jr. would have tried to stop the violence in the protests had he been alive. I believe that he would have given a speech about why committing acts such as looting, robbing, arson, and assault in the protests is bad for their cause. Martin Luther King Jr. would warn the audience that the protests would be remembered for the sheer brutality and terror, rather than the injustices and social issues that the protests are trying to combat. Also, he would definitely reinforce the importance of peaceful protests and non violent resistance in this speech. He may repeat one of his most famous quotes. “This [nonviolent resistance] method is that the attack is directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil… At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love.” Martin Luther King Jr. would then offer a solution to solve the problem of violent protests. The solution would be to create a world where discrimination, racism, and social issues agaist African Americans do not exist. This world would be one where his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” (King). Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most influential and celebrated leaders of the Civil Rights movement. His passion for social justice would definitely be seen today, if he were still alive.
Dewan, Shaila, and Mike Baker. “Facing Protests Over Use of Force, Police Respond With More Force.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 June 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/police-tactics-floyd-protests.html
Henney, Megan. “Riots, Looting after George Floyd Death Could Deal Fatal Blow to Businesses Reeling from Virus Outbreak.” Fox Business, Fox News, 3 June 2020, www.foxbusiness.com/money/george-floyd-riots-looting-small-business
Kelly, Meg, and Elyse Samuels. “Analysis | Who Caused the Violence at Protests? It Wasn’t Antifa.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 23 June 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/06/22/who-caused-violence-protests-its-not-antifa/ .
Purdue University Global. “Quotes on Nonviolence by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” Purdue Global, Purdue University Global, 6 Jan. 2014, www.purdueglobal.edu/blog/social-behavioral-sciences/quotes-on-nonviolence/
The New York Times. “How George Floyd Died, and What Happened Next.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Sept. 2020, www.nytimes.com/article/george-floyd.html