Why BLM is Missing the Mark on Non-Violence

The rise of the militant movement known as “Black Lives Matters” is an important one because it is so different from the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s, and today is a good day to look at that movement in light of the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who I hold in utmost respect and honor.  We should all aspire to have the heart of kindness and courage that Dr. King had.  First, it is important to note here that Time Magazine, in a story titled “Black Lives Matter is Not a Civil Rights Movement” written in December 2015, claims that Black Lives Matter is a Human Rights Movement.  The basis of the argument is that they are fighting for, “the full recognition of our rights as citizens; and it is a battle for full civil, social, political, legal, economic and cultural rights as enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights“; yet, in their continuing explanation of the movement, they limit the scope to “…a struggle for the human rights and dignity of black (emphasis added) people in the U.S., which is tied to black (emphasis added) peoples’ struggle for human rights across the globe.  I would debate, however, that given the behavior of the BLM movement and the hatred which they seem so willing to heap upon those that they dislike, their movement does not include all of humanity; it includes only those they choose to include because, after all, white, heterosexual people are humans too.

I heard an interview with a young, black person a few months back and what bothered me so much is the disregard for what achievements Dr. King made in our country.  It is unrealistic and unfair not to acknowledge the progress that has been made in humanity since the 1960s.  Sure, it isn’t enough, but it is something to build upon and I fully believe that Dr. King would see it in this way.  Those who were closest to him should be willing to acknowledge this progress, but it seems that it has proven more profitable for them to disregard it and, perhaps, undo some of that progress in order to keep their “business” of anti-racism going.

Additionally, this young man flippantly disregarded the significant benefits of a non-violent approach used by Dr. King.  When I was in graduate school at the American University in Washington, D.C., I made it a point to  study peace and non-violence.  At the time, as a scholar of the USSR I wanted to know if there was anything about this which could benefit our relationship with the former Soviet Union (they had just fallen at the time I was in school).  I am a believer in non-proliferation of nuclear weapons because of the horrific consequences of using those weapons and because of where we find ourselves today…non-state agents of hate (terrorists) with access to these weapons with support of nuclear nations.

The young man claimed that all of the non-violent action of the Civil Rights Era were a waste; that it had really not accomplished anything because look where we are.  Not a very good argument.  He was alluding to the violence from Ferguson, Baltimore, etc.  I would argue with him that those are not acceptable references because these black men were not shot because of some limitation or oversight of the Civil Rights Era.  These men were shot because they were committing crimes.  Dr. King never said that committing crime was okay because they’re just white folks and they deserve it anyway.  What he said was, “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”  Protesters of this movement have not protested an illegal law; they couldn’t.  The men who were killed were guilty of the crimes…murder, attempted murder, robbery, etc that were not unjust.  As well, in a few of these violent instances, too, the rioters were paid to riot, which also disqualifies this from inclusion.  The fact of the matter is, this young man and BLM doesn’t know if non-violence would work because they haven’t tried it and, I suspect, they know little to nothing about how to accomplish it.

The reason non-violence works is because it attracts supporters, even those who would seem to be outside the mainstream group and those supporters tend to be more loyal.  Gandhi realized this when he led his group to make salt from saltwater in protest against the British monopoly on salt manufacture.  At the time, there was only a small portion of the Indian population who were opposed to British rule, so Ghandi had to do something which would highlight the issue and bring in many more supporters of his cause, Indian Independence.

“He (Gandhi) announced the campaign with an open letter to Lord Irwin, the Viceroy, in which he politely but assertively requested acquiescence to his reasonable demands for making salt, and described the civil disobedience that would follow otherwise. Polite dialogue with the opponent was a key part of Gandhi’s method. He considered the opponent to be a partner in his quest for ‘truth.’ At a pragmatic level, this approach put Irwin in an awkward situation. If he acquiesced to Gandhi’s demands, he would appear weak and open the way for further demands. But if he came down on Gandhi too heavily, he would appear to be unreasonable and unjust and thus increase the level of opposition (Dalton, 1993).” (http://www.belfercenter.org/publication/why-civil-resistance-works-strategic-logic-nonviolent-conflict)

Gandhi’s belief was that however violent the opposition, he would have to that much more non-violent.What this allows for is an interpretation of the opposition, by the public as cruel.  It changes the people’s perceptions of the victimizer, in this case the British government.  The BLM young man could only see non-violence as a bunch of black folks sitting on the ground, but it is so much more than that.  If you think back to Selma, the police and the Alabama government looks so much more horrible because the protestors did nothing.  Everyone, then, who watched at home knew with no question that they had done nothing to provoke the attack.  More often than not, this brings great shame upon the victimizer.  But, when we see people rioting, looting stores, stomping on people in the road and those types of violence, it simply alienates everyone except the participant.

Consider how differently the situation in Ferguson, Missouri would have been if the protestors had just sat down in the road and not allowed anyone in or out of the police station.  The same in Baltimore, if they had just sat down outside the DA’s office and demanded a fair review of the case.  I encourage all the supporters of the BLM to reconsider their position on non-violence; to study it more closely; and to seek out the knowledgeable about peaceful resistance.  I will close with a quote from Henry David Thoreau who said, “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth–certainly the machine will wear out… but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

Take time today to talk with your children about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.



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