“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence…” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Growing up in a Los Angeles suburb, I led a life safe from many of the troubles that took place only miles from where I lived. During the summer of ’65, those troubles exploded during a hot August night.
Marquette Frye, a black, twenty-one-year old, was pulled over by police for reckless driving. After Frye failed a sobriety test, police were in the process of arresting him when his brother, a passenger in the car, ran to their nearby house. Frye’s mother appeared on the scene and berated her son for driving drunk.
In short order people were pushed, and heated words exchanged before the police assaulted Frye and kicked a pregnant woman sparking a riot in the South-Central area of Los Angeles known as Watts. Buildings were burned, and businesses looted as the riot spread from block to block. A contingent of police and nearly 4,000 National Guardsmen fought to regain control, but the violence continued for six days.
All this occurred while I watched round-the-clock TV coverage from the safety of a golf course where I was working during a summer break from high school. When the smoked cleared, 34 were dead and property damage topped $40 million.
The long simmering anger and resentment from the black community came about from discriminatory housing practices. However, the literal matchstick came about from actions by police. In a matter of days, rioting cropped up in the California communities of Pasadena, Long Beach and San Diego.
Now, 55 years later, history was repeating itself as I watched the same scene play out in Minneapolis where protestors used violence in response to the police murder of George Floyd, a black man. And similar to Watts, protests have spread to other cities including Los Angeles, Denver, Portland, New York and Louisville, Kentucky where
In three months, we have seen several blatant examples of racism.
Ahmaud Abery was jogging in a neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia in February when two white men murdered him – all of it caught on a cell phone. Three months later, Floyd was murdered. The FBI has opened an investigation.
This past Monday, Amy Cooper, a white woman walking her dog in New York’s Central Park, was approached by Christian Cooper, a black man birdwatching. With his cell phone recording, Christian politely asked Amy to put her dog on a leash, as required by the park. Angered, the young woman frantically called police and falsely reported that a black man was threatening her and her dog. The case is currently under review as a possible hate crime.
Watching all these incidents unfold on the news, I thought, “What has changed?”
Apparently, not much.
Three years before the riots in Watts, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a crowd of 250,000 black and white Americans in Washington, DC. King was there to talk about tolerance and equality. He was also there to address violent protests.
“Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness,” King said.
– Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
– Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
– Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.
– Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
– Nonviolence chooses love, instead of hate.
– Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
In his last book, King wrote, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence, you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence, you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Fifty-seven years after King spoke in Washington, the title of that final book summarizes the urgent question facing us today.
“Where Do We Go from Here, Chaos or Community?”