Condemn the Conditions as Vigorously as You Condemn the Violence
John J. Dunphy
(Published as “Condemn the Conditions as Vigorously as You Condemn the Protests” in the 6–6–20 edition of The Telegraph of Alton, IL.)
Except for a ruckus at an Alton ice cream stand, the Metro East has seen only peaceful demonstrations protesting the murder of George Floyd. Our neighbor across the Mississippi River, however, has not been so fortunate.
Over 70 businesses in the St. Louis area were burglarized, vandalized or set ablaze from June 1 to June 2. The greatest tragedy was the murder of 77-year-old retired St. Louis police captain David Dorn, who was shot around 2:30 am on Tuesday morning by looters at a pawn shop. A hand-printed sign is now taped outside this pawn shop. It reads: “Y’all killed a black man because they killed a black man? Rest in Peace.”
Most protesters eschew violence. As President Obama noted, “The overwhelming majority of participants have been peaceful, courageous, responsible and inspiring” and “deserve our respect and support.” However, Obama remarked, “the small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence…whether out of genuine anger or mere opportunism, are putting innocent people at risk, compounding the destruction of neighborhoods…and detracting from the larger cause.”
That “small minority of folks who’ve resorted to violence” apparently has some unlikely allies. Mike Griffin, a Minneapolis activist, told the media that “People not affiliated with the protests are creating havoc on the streets.” He described them as young white men who carry hammers and talk about torching buildings.
Accelerationists are white supremacists who wants to hasten the collapse of the United States. Regarding the current riots, the Anti-Defamation League reported that accelerationists “are celebrating the prospect of increased violence, which they hope will lead to a long-promised ‘race war.’ They are extremely active online, urging other white supremacists to take full advantage of the moment.”
For Baby Boomers such as myself, “boogaloo” is a dance. The term has been appropriated by white supremacists, however, and is now a code word for a race war, which they regard as both inevitable and desirable.
Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed the issue of violence vs. non-violence during a speech titled “The Other America,” which he delivered on April 14, 1967 at Stanford University. He stated, “Let me say that I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom and justice.”
King followed this rejection of violence by reminding the audience that “riots do not develop out of thin air.” He posited that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” And what has our nation failed to hear? King stressed that “the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.” Why? Because “large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity.”
True, King delivered this speech in 1967 when our nation seemed to be tearing itself apart. But have “the promises of freedom and justice” to which King referred been realized during the ensuing years? The recent murders of Ahmaud Arberry, who was killed for jogging while black (see my May 16 column), and George Floyd underscore that they have not.
What can we do to prevent our cities from erupting into maelstroms of violence? King answered that question during this long-ago speech. “As long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarators of riot prevention.”
King indeed rejected violence in his “The Other America” speech. But he also demanded that “Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots.” King believed that when the United States truly becomes a nation with liberty and justice for all, we will have peace. So do I.
John J. Dunphy is the author of Abolitionism and the Civil War in Southwestern Illinois and Unsung Heroes of the Dachau Trials: The Investigative Work of the U.S. Army’s 7708 War Crimes Group, 145–1947.