Every year, we go through the January ritual of honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., America's prominent civil rights icon who championed nonviolent protest.
We see marches and parades take place, along with countless recitations of his captivating “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.
Still, in the five decades since Dr. King's tragic assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, civil unrest caused by systemic racism towards black people in America has continued to escalate throughout succeeding generations.
King’s well-documented commitment to nonviolent social change remains one of his most important legacies, but the ideology that once inspired a nation has been replaced with ruthless and disruptive rebellions.
America watched protests erupt in 75 cities in the aftermath of George Floyd’s public execution in Minneapolis and once again Dr. King's name was invoked as a balm against violence.
The civil tension witnessed from Black Lives Matter participants and the violent insurrection by Trump supporters that ravaged the U.S. Capitol has led many to ponder: “What would Dr. King do” in the face of widespread racial oppression, massive nationwide protests and presidential leadership that was openly hostile to anyone who opposes his ruling?
Too often, in the wake of “Black protests,” Dr. King's legacy is used to offset or quiet a faction of people who have grown tired of feeling voiceless.
Instead of understanding why people feel the need to rebel, King's words are used to tell them the way they're protesting is wrong. They're too intrusive; they're too loud.
King urged civil rights activists, law enforcement personnel and all Americans to practice nonviolence, yet some act as if this principle should apply only to the racially and economically oppressed.
Dr. King would undoubtedly be disheartened in those who only choose to berate one side of America’s unfolding national racial crisis.
He recognized violent political rebellions reaching from Birmingham, Ala., to the inner-city of Los Angeles as the organic response to racial oppression and structural violence.
Just a few weeks before he died, in a packed high school gym just outside Detroit, constantly interrupted by a rowdy right-wing crowd picketing his appearance, King had these radical words to say:
“…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 the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. (“The Other America,” 1968).”
He understood the fact that “riots were the language of the unheard.” Riots are the retort to America failing to hear the promises of equality and justice have not been met.
Riots are the response to a nation who can't seem to empathize with Black people's reasoning for protest, but can justify a group attempting to usurp President-elect Joe Biden's election win by staging an assault on our democracy.
It was appalling to see the marauders wave “Blue Lives Matter” flags while they purposefully crush a Capitol Police officer in a door and drag and beat another officer while yelling threats.
Yet, those marauders sympathize with officers when Black Lives Matter protesters act out their frustrations.
The manner in which the Capitol terrorists were handled that day was a live documentation of the double standard still present in America.
Friday, Jan. 15, King would have turned 92-years of age. What would he do after witnessing nearly a century of racial divide in this country?
His attention wouldn't be on the destruction of a few businesses. He'd focus on the economic, social, and political conditions that produced mass protests contoured by bursts of violence.
And how to turn his 58-year old dream into a reality.