Martin Luther King and the Ferguson rebellion

Charles Barron | 9/4/2014, 11:53 a.m.
What would the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. say if he were alive today about the uprising, or shall ...
The poeple of Ferguson protesting in reponse to Mike Brown incident St Louis American - Wiley and Lawerence Byant photo)

What would the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. say if he were alive today about the uprising, or shall we say rebellion, in Ferguson, Mo., in response to a white police officer killing an unarmed Black youth, Michael Brown? Certainly, King was the prince of peace and an uncompromising firm believer in nonviolence. So what would he say about the violence that occurred in Ferguson? Would he condemn the participants?

To get an idea of what King might say, let’s go back to 1967 and hear King in his own words.

In 1967, so-called riots—I call them uprising or rebellions—were breaking out in Black communities across the nation in response to the same issues of police killing and brutality of innocent, unarmed Black citizens and poverty that greedy capitalists created in Black communities across America. The death toll and property damage, which was in the millions, were plaguing communities like Newark, N.J., Detroit, Mich., and Watts, in Los Angeles,Calif. All of these communities went up in flames. Police, the National Guard and the military placed these communities under siege and occupation. Black communities across America were on fire. Centuries of pain and suffering turned to rage and rebellion.

When King was asked to condemn the so-called rioters, this was his response: “Violent they certainly were. But the violence, to a startling degree, was focused against property rather than against people. There were very few cases of injury to persons and the vast majority of the rioters were not involved at all in attacking people. The much publicized ‘death toll’ that marked the riots were overwhelmingly inflicted on rioters by the military ... a handful of Negroes used gunfire, substantially to intimidate, not to kill; and all of the other participants had a different target—property.”

That was King in 1967. In 1968, at a community forum, he made a speech titled “The Other America.” He stated, “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without at the same time condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are things that cause individuals to feel they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

King was intelligent, sensitive and analytical in his response to the rebellions. He did not condemn them. He explained them to America and warned Americans that they must listen to the voice of the unheard. These civil rights leaders of today are too quick to condemn rebellions, instead of explaining them like King. Let’s be honest, if it were not for the rebellion in Ferguson, the president would not have responded; U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder would not have gone to Ferguson; the United Nations secretary-general would not have responded; CNN and MSNBC would not have been there every night; and the world would not be watching the town of Ferguson. If there is any justice that comes out of Ferguson, much credit must be given to the rebellion.