The year 2014 has been an eventful one when it has come to racial tensions. Over the summer two events occurred which have totally changed the racial landscape of America in the present. In July, an African American man, Eric Garner was outside a beauty salon, selling illegal cigarettes, trying to make a little extra money. The ensuing confrontation is video taped with Garner and the police. Garner can be seen as saying “leave me alone” and “it ends today” (referring to the constant badgering he would receive from the police.) What happens next we can see the policemen start to take him down, with what seems like unnecessary force. Towards the end of the video you can hear Garner, saying repeatedly in a muffled voice “I can’t breathe.” The following court case would yield a not guilty verdict on the part of the policeman who choked Garner out. (fast foward to 1:04 to see the actual video).
A case which also had a huge ripple effect on the african american community occurred a month later with a young man named Michael Brown. Brown was seen on surveillance video, stealing from a connivence store right before his confrontation with policeman Darren Wilson. The account which Wilson provides is the confrontation had gotten physical, with Brown starting to attack him. Brown would go on to reach for Wilson’s weapon, where at this point he proceeded to shoot Brown a total of 6-7 times hitting him, with the last shot more than likely being the fatal one.
The ensuing court case would yield results much similar to the Garner case, with officer Wilson getting let off with a not guilty verdict.
With both instances, the person responsible for killing the victim were found to be not guilty. Though both were committing crimes, was this use of force necessary? Whatever the case, what happened angered many, many people causing ensuing protests. In Ferguson, Missouri, where the incident took place, there was peaceful protests right after the indictment. But these protest escalated very quickly into what would be riots, violence and looting. In New York the story was much different. Though the case with the police officer who choked out Garner got a similar indictment as Wilson, the protests which have been on going in New York City have been relatively peaceful. So we must ask ourselves- What would Martin Luther King think about these two cases?
In MLK’s “A Letter From Birmingham Jail”, King address the “direct action” through the use of peaceful protests to change an injustice. I believe if MLK were still alive today he would look at both cases, and would totally disagree with whats going on in Ferguson. This is the exact opposite way to bring about change. They are perpetuating violence with more violence. This is probably the most ineffective way to change a problem. On the other hand though, I believe he stand behind the peaceful protests occurring in New York City. The situation which they are creating in New York through peaceful protests is indeed causing tension. The type of tension which MLK describes would bring about negotiation and change.
So do I stand behind whats going on in Ferguson and the reaction of the community? No. But on the other hand, a much more appropriate response is happening right now in New York. And through the reading “A Letter From the Birmingham County Jail” I would have to say that MLK would agree with me on this one.