Posted on January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King’s Golden Legacy of Nonviolence

Jim Goad, Takimag, January 21, 2013

On Friday during a speech in Florida, slain civil-rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr.’s far fatter, balder, and lighter-skinned son urged Americans to break free from their wretchedly shameful “culture of violence.”

The next day, a Mississippi man was shot in the chest during a parade honoring King’s legendary (and, c’mon, far more famous) daddy.

The shooting occurred on Martin Luther King Drive in Jackson, MS. {snip}

This tragic shooting at the MLK Parade on MLK Drive follows what is a darn-near epidemic — or, to put it as mildly as possible, a “spate” — of recent stabbings, shootings, and other violent incidents that are sadly yet unfortunately related in some way to Dr. King’s legacy:

• Right before Christmas, a San Antonio woman was stabbed by her boyfriend inside her home near the intersection of I-10 and Martin Luther King Drive. Three of her children reportedly witnessed the incident.

• In late December, a man was stabbed in his bicep while trying to defend the honor of his girlfriend from a mob that was harassing her on Martin Luther King Drive in Jersey City.

• In the wee hours of New Year’s Day, a woman was stabbed on a DC Metrobus near the 2200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.

• In Detroit on January 2, 26-year-old Semeria Greene was charged with the stabbing death of her eight-year-old daughter, Tameria, at the Martin Luther King Apartments. {snip}

• Early in January, Chevon C. Dixon pled guilty to fatally stabbing her boyfriend last April at his apartment on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Peoria.

• On January 4 a man claims he was robbed in a stairwell on the third floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Transportation Center in Sioux City, IA. He says the suspect held him in a headlock and threatened to stab him.


• Of all these cases, the most tragic — i.e., “amusing” — is the recent arrest of a 33-year-old Jacksonville man named Martin Luther King in connection with a January 9 triple shooting in which one man died. King allegedly used a dreaded “assault rifle” and wore a facemask while attacking his victims as they innocently played a game of dominoes.


Despite his violent death and the nationwide violence that erupted in its wake, and despite even what Ralph David Abernathy is alleged to have said, Martin Luther King — I mean the famous one, the 1968 murder victim, not the 2013 murder suspect — may have been an entirely peaceful man. Frankly, I didn’t know the guy. But I do know that in a speech he gave only weeks before he was slain in Memphis, he proclaimed that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” So despite his lifelong emphasis on nonviolent tactics, it seems as if even the saintly Dr. King may have been reconciling himself to the inevitability of violence in achieving political change.

A week before his murder, violence erupted at the tail end of a march that King was leading to protest the treatment of black Memphis sanitation workers. Black teens started smashing storefronts in downtown Memphis; in the ensuing melee, at least 64 people were injured and police shot a 16-year-old black youth to death. Although King officially distanced himself from the violence, he allegedly continued to negotiate with members of The Invaders, a black-power group thought by many to be responsible for the march’s violence.


Amid the gun-grabbing cacophony, you rarely hear that when it comes to violent crime, American blacks are “three times more likely than non-blacks to use a gun.” Nor are you often reminded of blacks’ darkly comical statistical over-representation in American homicide stats. The complex pathologies of American gun ownership, like those broadly attributed to “the South” in general, are once again misdiagnosed as strictly a white thing. But we should never, as a nation, fail to acknowledge the rich and vibrant contributions that American blacks have made when it comes to gun crime.

The weightier question is whether political or social change can ever occur without violence, or at least the implied threat of force. It’s hard for me to tell which phenomenon had a deeper impact on American culture: King’s mostly nonviolent marches, or his murder and the ensuing nationwide urban conflagrations. Is it possible that white Americans finally started to comply with black demands not due to some big-hearted moral compulsion but because they were scared into “accepting” change?