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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Dr. Martin Luther King's Legacy Still Galvanizes Today's Movement For Justice And Equality

 January 18, 2021 at 11:40 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 As we reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, it's important to look at the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties and how it shapes the movement. Now, one of the people who marched alongside Dr. King is Reverend James Lawson, Jr. He is often referred to as the mind of the movement, Dr. King called him the leading theorist and strategist of non-violence in the world. Today. He remains a staunch defender of human rights and is a lecture at UCLA where he teaches about nonviolent social movements, Reverend Lawson. It is an honor to have you on midday edition today. Speaker 2: 00:36 Thank you. My pleasure to do it on this day. Speaker 1: 00:39 You know, I first want to listen to this 1963 audio clip from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's. I have a dream speech also known as normalcy no more. Speaker 3: 00:49 When the architects of our Republic wrote the magnificent word, subbed, the constitution and the declaration of independence, they will signing a promissory note to whichever the American was to fall down. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men, as well as white men would be a guaranteed the on 80 on a bull, the rights of life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check, which has come back, Mark insufficient funds, Speaker 1: 01:58 You know, Reverend Lawson. When you listen to that, um, in what ways do those words still ring true? Is America still in default? Speaker 2: 02:06 Yes. You asked the question. The simple answer is yes, and the United States of America does not know it. We, the people of the United States of America are not aware very often of how far short we have fallen of those two historical documents, especially their preambles. Speaker 1: 02:37 What will it take then for America to truly live up to the promises of the constitution even, and to make good on their check as Dr. King put it? Speaker 2: 02:46 Well, this is where United States ought to be grateful that we have a large black leadership because the movement that the late Congressman John Lewis calls, uh, uh, called, uh, the nonviolent moon movement of America, 1953 and two 1973, I dated in those 20 years, that movement, the nonviolent movement of the USA that engaged in direct action and directly challenging the tyranny, the lack of the vote discrimination in employment, the violence against black people that was integrate integrated part of racism. All of that we challenged, uh, then today in the 21st century, we have what I have consistently called for the black lives matter, which is an evolutionary part of the 20th century of our black freedom movement or black struggle for Liberty equality, justice for all, all the beloved community. So in those, in these two great movements, the nation has been given an invitation to do the slow work, sometimes complicated work, but the most significant work in carrying out and becoming a society that is fully democratic, that is moving towards becoming a beloved community. Speaker 2: 04:39 And that has begun to happen in the last 60 years. And the black lives matter evolutionary campaign, the finest campaign of nonviolence, the nation has ever had over 8,000 demonstrations and more than 2,500 locations in all 50 States involving maybe 15 to 25 million people, the most, um, people diverse demonstrations the nation has ever had in that. And in this campaign of black lives matter in the 21st century, this is the continuing hope that our nation can pay off fulfill the promissory note of which Dr. King talks. Do you look at what Stacy Abrams was able to achieve in Georgia through voter registration efforts as a form of nonviolent resistance? Actually, the vote is a nonviolent tactic in the history of nonviolent literature voting to make changes and organizing, to make changes through the politics is a major way that you work against them. Tyranny, tyranny. That of course, in part of the history in our own country, Speaker 1: 06:12 Right, when you saw the violent attempt at a coup take place at the us Capitol two weeks ago, and law enforcement response to those rioters, uh, compared to the treatment you received during your non-violent protest for equality with Dr. King, what were your thoughts? Speaker 2: 06:31 I had a multiplicity of box. One was we have had this kind of violence across 300 years in the United States by white people, um, uh, who were not seeking justice and truth. We're all, but we're seeking power. And that violence has never been, um, effectively prosecuted. So in one way, I thought of the fact that, uh, the chickens have come home to hers as much as I did not want that would not have supported anything like that. Uh, United States is not in our various governments at the state local national level. We have not really resisted the use or misuse of violence for the purpose of domination and control. And, and that right is a direct result. January ships of are not stopping police brutality towards black people and, or stopping the militia groups that call for a race war, which is why they do their exercises in the jungles of California and Michigan and elsewhere. Speaker 2: 08:14 And we have never held them responsible publicly for their misdeeds. We have to understand that any number of the people who've now been arrested, have a personal history of threat and of acts of violence and speech speeches of violence in their personal journeys. You can look at this, I have followed much of this from the 20th, early 20th century to the present moment. Um, so, uh, I would, that was, that was of the things in my mind. Um, I, I think secondly, my major, um, thought was about how with all the warnings, the Capitol police and the Congress, um, and not done the work preparing for the kinds of groups that we Clared on in social media and all that they were coming. And I should edit this by saying that there were strong voices like Congresswoman Maxine waters. We talk with the chief of police about preparation for the January 6th demonstration and was assured that a plan was in place. But that goes to show you how we, civilian elected officials and others must take responsibility to see to it that our police operate for the support and advancement of our society as a society shaping itself, according to the preamble of the constitution or the preamble of the declaration of independence, Speaker 1: 10:20 There are calls for unity after that insurrection can peace and unity exists without justice and accountability. First Speaker 2: 10:30 Of course not. Um, our society has never been a peaceful society. We are the most violent culture across 400 years that the earth has ever known. And you're exactly right. The tensions are not tensions between primarily Trump and us or between the Republicans and Democrats. The tensions are caused by the often grotesque injustice in our country. And so to, to achieve unity, we have to dismantle, we have to dismantle racism in the sexism and the violence and especially the economic injustice, but that requires you E we eradicated, uh, our eradicating the wrong so that unity can take over our minds, our hearts and our daily work. Speaker 1: 11:43 I've been speaking with Reverend James Lawson, Reverend Lawson, thank you for your work and for sharing your insight on this Martin Luther King Jr day. Well thank you Speaker 4: 11:54 For having me and for doing this. Speaker 1: 11:58 As we talk about the capital riot, we can't overlook the connection and current threat of white extremist terrorism, nor can we overlook its place in history. I'd like to turn the conversation now to Latina gauze, a professor of political science at UCF who holds a PhD in public policy and political science professor gods. Welcome. Thank you for having me today. I'll start by asking you the same question. I asked Reverend Lawson when you saw the violent attempt at coup take place at the us Capitol and law enforcement's response compared to their response over the summer to black lives matter protest and even civil rights demonstrations in the fifties and sixties. What was your reaction? Speaker 4: 12:41 My reaction was surprised and alarm, um, mostly because when we, when I saw the Capitol Hill riots, I saw police who are in their normal uniforms and they weren't in riot gear. They weren't deploying tear gas or rubber bullets, or even using blockades. And it it's not the alarm because I felt like they should be using those in all circumstances. It's just when I saw protests in the past and in the, uh, last summer in 2020, but also in, even during the civil rights movement, police were talking about how they needed to use these more excessive tools, uh, of these more excessive uses of force, because I've said that they were necessary in order to, to halt or to, uh, address the threat that was occurring. When we saw what happened on June and June 1st, 2022, uh, almost six months or almost, I guess, almost nine months ago. Speaker 4: 13:37 Now, uh, we saw almost 6,000 law enforcement agents, um, from even federal agencies like ice and the da, the national guard. They were all mobilized, uh, against a potential threat by black lives matter protests who were very peaceful, not, uh, not aggressive. And over 300 people were arrested. Then only 60 people were arrested on January 6th, which is a huge difference. And a lot of times we try to justify the difference in use of force by saying that black lives matter protests are very violent, right? And the data does just not support this, uh, there's data that shows that even since 2017, if you look at all those years, I mean, 96% of those were non-violent. And in comparison, you have the protest, the attack on, uh, Capitol Hill, sorry, that were occurring. And there was just a lot of regression, a lot of violence, people lost their lives, and yet still there wasn't the same mobilization. And even today, considering we're celebrating Martin Luther King, a lot of his protests were purposefully peaceful. He had, uh, a huge, uh, agenda of nonviolent resistance, where there were all these peaceful demonstrations, and yet still police were sending dogs on protesters, sending fire hoses against them. And you might even recall bloody Sunday or John Lewis, and many other black Americans were brutally beaten for attempting to walk across a bridge that I'm in Pettus bridge. And we saw a completely different response in, in this the recent capital and riots. Speaker 1: 15:10 And, you know, let's talk about the bigger picture here. You know, today there are threats of violence all over this country from armed white supremacist groups and other extremists who have been in Bolden for years and planning attacks in plain sight online, just like the one at the Capitol and despite the warnings, why do you think there's been a delayed law enforcement reaction to this growing threat? Speaker 4: 15:33 So my work, I talk about how, uh, when you think about the, the, the white supremacist type protest, and then also black lives matter protests and civil rights movement protest in the 1960s, a lot of the difference was based on who the groups were and what they wanted, right? And, and the United States, there's this common stereotype, this false stereotype that black people are prone to violence. And also that America Americans are more white, right? They're the more likely to be perceived as white people, um, and less of a threat, uh, to our institutions. Our institutions were built in a way to protect white people, white wealth. And, uh, in, in many ways, the, the threat by, by black lives matter protesters or civil rights movement, protest is for more progress and equality challenges, a status quo that is built within our institutions. It's, uh, the way many of our laws were created were created to defend those institutions and defend the very things that, uh, these white supremacist groups are protesting about. Speaker 4: 16:38 So some part of it is just the, the stereotype is perception of what it means to be criminal and, and do bad behaviors that police are not immune to. The other part is police. There are many police officers who are, who have similar beliefs as some of these white supremacist groups looking at Capitol Hill riots. There were police officers, law enforcement agents who are also attacking the capital and the name of defending what they believe democracy in the United States should be, which is more of a white supremacist type front democracy. Um, and, uh, even in the civil rights movement, you had, uh, the FBI with COINTELPRO, which was a, uh, uh, program instituted by FBI and Hoover to really try to infiltrate and diminish, uh, the civil rights claims, uh, that were, uh, made to explicitly challenge the status quo. Most of the efforts by COINTELPRO, which included very illegal behaviors, wire tabs, sometimes even violence and assassinations were meant to keep that progress from happening. And it was done by law enforcement agents. Hmm. Speaker 1: 17:50 And given all of that, what opportunities do you see for the modern civil rights movement, like black lives matter to influence legislation and policy now that the Biden Harris administration will be inaugurated this week? Speaker 4: 18:03 Yeah. So one thing about, uh, the Brighton Harris administration is that it is empower, it, it did win the election because of the efforts by civil rights groups. And if they hope to win elections again, they need to put forth policies that actually achieve some of the civil rights progress that, uh, these groups are asking for in their protest behavior. So one thing is just institutionally, if they want to continue to win elections, one of the one, the midterms, and then the 2024 presidential election they'll need to Institute policies that really respond to these groups so that they are continuing to support them electorally, but also beyond just the electoral incentive, uh, this administration is a lot more, uh, willing and desires, or at least in, in the platform of the political party, uh, to produce these types of policies compared to the one that's called outgoing the Trump administration. So if they, they want to say that they are achieving their policy goals and they actually have to deliver on some of these promises. Speaker 1: 19:09 I've been speaking with UC San Diego political science, professor, Latina gauze, professor gods. Thank you so much for joining Speaker 4: 19:16 And thank you for having me today.

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As we reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. it’s important to look at the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s and how it shapes the movement now.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments