When cops kill unarmed people of color what is the most effective way for an outraged community to address that ultimate injustice? Shoot back? Plead on our knees? Burn it down? Ignore it and hope it fixes itself?
The problems those movements wrestled with have ranged from the lack of dignity to outright murder and everything in between. None of our history is crystal clear and unambiguous; it is a complex, historically deep story with illimitable factors. Grand proclamations are wonderful rhetoric but tend to hide competing narratives of truth.
So here is a modest assertion: The movements that have achieved change in the US have generally been nonviolent.
Yeah, but what if we all rose up? asks the young angry one (full disclosure: 47 years ago I became one of the angry young ones for several years). We could make any change we want.
True. So if we know that if we all rose up we could make it so, why use violence?
Well, says the justifiably outraged one, burning down a few buildings is just a natural expression of the righteous rage we should all feel. Even your Dr. King said that the riot is the language of the unheard.
Again, you are right. However, two points may add to your view. One, there are always multiple natural expressions to any phenomenon, so why choose the one that will set you back instead of one that will move you forward? Two, Dr. King certainly did make that exact acknowledgement after saying that he felt that riots were the wrong way forward. Using a handful of his words out of context is grossly misleading, some might say effectively spreading falsehoods. He was being compassionate but he also wanted to be strategic and he was always clear that his moral and strategic selves were in alignment that nonviolence is the best method of conflict management. He told Mike Wallace:
I will never change in my basic idea that non-violence is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for freedom and justice. I think for the Negro to turn to violence would be both impractical and immoral.
Those who work hard to change how police act and react, to their murderous outbursts, are absolutely justified in rioting. Justifying most violent behavior is easy. But historically we overwhelmingly see that those riots are setbacks, they postpone the day when we can expect proper community policing equally in all communities. This is not a moral judgment, just my view as an analyst. As the father of two African American men I confess it is more strongly moral; rioters make my sons less safe. So do those who are apathetic. I argue that Dr. King helped lead many changes successfully and if we want to ask WWMD? the answer is that he would be out in the street with robust nonviolence. He would be speaking in greatly inspirational ways, urging strong and confrontive nonviolence. The ultimate irreducible mandate of nonviolence always has been and continues to be:
Heighten the confrontation and deepen the invitation.