by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Among the more contemptible rhetorical tricks used this past weekend was the hijacking of Martin Luther King Jr. to enlist him in the cause of rioting. Celebrities, activists, leading journalistic institutions, and even the Martin Luther King Jr. Center itself are participating in a misinformation campaign by citing King’s remark that “the riot is the language of the unheard” but leaving out the context in which he said it. King was no proponent of riots.
The “language of the unheard” comment comes from King’s “the Other America” speech, two versions of which King gave, one on April 14, 1967, at Stanford, and the other on March 14, 1968, at Grosse Point South High School. These speeches are demands for better living conditions for blacks, not just technical legal equality before the law. King didn’t defend rioters but merely said that there was understandable anger underlying their actions. …
… Such words may not have been the consensus in King’s time, but today few would dispute them. Far from being radical, in 2020 King’s sentiments seem obvious: This past weekend’s riots didn’t develop out of thin air. Riots usually don’t. But though the anger about the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis was understandable, it was counterproductive for it to turn into a free-for-all of looting, arson, and destruction for its own sake, some of which did not even seem motivated by racial grievances against the police but by the eternal anarchist craving to burn first, propose solutions later.
King would be astonished to hear that people claiming to be his acolytes are quoting parts of the above while completely ignoring his life’s work, which was to achieve change through nonviolent resistance. It’s not as though he was unclear about this.