Dr. King on Ferguson

Ferguson has become the epicenter of protests on racial stigma of police officers that have spread across the nation. Much like Birmingham, Alabama was 50 years ago for civil rights of blacks at large. But in both cases there were many who believed that the protests and the ensuing violence were not justified. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the Civil Rights Movement gave his formula of where “direct action” was vindicated. Let’s compare to see if Birmingham and the protests against police racial violence fall in that category.

Dr. King mentions that for any campaign it is first important to define whether injustices occur and then enter into negotiations.  Starting with the definition, Birmingham, Alabama has had an ugly history of racial injustices and brutality, something that was acknowledged as well by the white clergymen that MLK was writing to. As far as negotiations go, King  also mentions that he had advocated for and taken part in previous negotiations, but all it led to was “broken promises” on the behalf of the opposition.

On the other hand in Ferguson, police records show that there is almost a 1:9 ratio in the amount of searches, stops and arrests that whites face vs. the amounts that blacks face. And it isn’t just about one town either. Recently the nation was rattled by the shooting of Travyon Martin in Florida, and across the nation police have entered into armed conflict white black youths 7 -10 times more than with white youths. And after each instance, there has been a call for dealing with police violence. In fact even in his letter which was written, 51 years ago, Dr. King calls for the clergymen to take action against the “ugly and inhumane” behavior of the Birmingham police department against young blacks. Across this span of time there have been many talks, yet the statistics remain the same.  So regardless of the evidence present in one grand jury decision, statistics show that there is a racial stigma in law enforcement against black youths, and diplomatic negotiation has not changed that fact. So the first two parts of Dr. King’s methodology has aligned with the protests in Ferguson, but the last step, direction action is a bit more complex.

On the surface, Dr. King wholeheartedly is against violent forms of direct action. He says that if violent protest had prevailed “by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood.” In his letter he specifically condemns the Black Panthers and other black nationalist organizations who are willing to use violence to achieve their goals. We have seen Ferguson erupt into riots, fires and widespread looting. Protestors have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails at civilians, and the police have had to use to tear gas back on them. Seeing this, Martin Luther King III, son of Dr. King, came out and said that his father would have sternly been against the violence of this protest.

But there is another aspect. In the recent days, many have come out and criticized the people in Ferguson by calling them “extremist protestors.” While this label may seem at first negative, Dr. King goes deeper into it’s analysis. He points out that in some sense, Jesus, St. Paul, Martin Luther, John Bunyan and Thomas Jefferson, people who who we revere today, were all extremists for they stood against their oppressors for their own beliefs. Taking this a step further, the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence and Shay’s Rebellion could all be viewed as acts of extremism. But for better or for worse each and every single one of them has played a key part in the founding of this nation.So the question then is “not whether or not we will be extremists…but whether we will be extremists for hate or love?”

An analysis of Dr. King’s letter shows that the people of Ferguson, and those voicing their opinion across the nation for reducing police stigma, have a claim to injustices and have waited so long for peaceful negotiation that it is time for direct action. And in this direct action they can rightly be extremists for their cause. They can march, protest, boycott, and make their voice heard. But this interpretation shows that they just should not be extremists for the sake of revenge, for that road leads to nowhere.

4 thoughts on “Dr. King on Ferguson

  1. This post just gave me life ! I love how you related this to Dr. King , with the support of two different arguments, in such a concise and effective manner. I agree, that to some extent Dr.King would have preferred non -violent action. However , as you so eloquently pointed out, he also realized the need for extremist actions to spark progress. According to Machiavelli sometimes we need “dirty hands”. In this case protesters and myself, view the rioting in ferguson as political action that justify the means. While they do cause harm according to Mill and even violate ethics that condemn violence, it is necessary in order to really get some justice. Your evidence of unfair police arrest and harassment proves that racial inequality in Ferguson has been going on for years. It is not something that is new. Racism unfortunately still exist, media has simply helped give insight to those who were so clearly “blind”. Nonetheless I do agree that such violence can lead to nowhere and simply makes matters worse especially for those who rely on the community the most. But had it not been for said violence would ferguson be getting the needed attention at all or would the years of oppression continue?


  2. This issue that you point out is very controversial and is one of the main topic that is going around in the United States. Just to talk about my opinion real quick, yes I believe the officer was wrong and never should of had to pull out a gun. There were so many different ways he could of gone, whether it was a stun gun, a night stick, a punch to the face. He did not have to shoot an unarmed human being and especially shoot him multiple times. That just shows that he was shooting due to rage and lost control of himself. On the other hand, there shouldn’t be riots and people burning the American flag and the media making this such a big deal. Although, the racial issue is extremely important, the fact that there are cities being burned and people getting hurt is just crazy. Overall this blog was extremely interesting, it helped me get a better understand of the topic and let me know what other people are thinking.


  3. I really liked how your post connected with such a controversial topic that is going on today. I think it was interesting watching Dr. Matin Luther King Jr.’s son’s interview because he seemed to have some more constructive ways to go about seeking change. His idea to give people who feel they are unfairly burdened by police officers a platform to voice their concerns and seek change is something that I would think is something relating to Dr. King’s definition of “extremists for love.” However, watching some of the clips from the Ferguson riots just shows a lot of incidences relating to “extremists for hate” because many protests are destroying businesses in their “pursuit of justice.” As you pointed out, Dr. King outlines the framework for successfully seeking change, and it appears that some protestors need some guidance in how to seek the type of opportunities Dr. King’s son mentioned in order to fix this flawed justice system.


  4. I think this is a very interesting issue because of how contemporary it is. An interesting thing to think about is the idea that we as people want to have order in our society, but sometimes that order can get out of hand. In this case, the police can take on Machiavellian aspects in that the people can fear the power that they have over the people of the United States. With this power comes the ability to abuse the power. I also agree that the problems in the US go much deeper than the specific incident in Ferguson, MO. I really liked the comparisons to Dr. King’s writing.


Comments are closed.