Misusing MLK Moral Authority

Jpharoahdoss
4 min readMay 31, 2024
Photo by Laura Nyhuis on Unsplash

Over the last decade, numerous riots have erupted in response to fatal encounters between unarmed black individuals and police officers. Martin Luther King Jr. famously stated, “A riot is the language of the unheard,” but the activists who condoned the violence used this phrase to cloak themselves in MLK’s moral authority in order to silence others who denounced the riots.

MLK’s comment described how, when the oppressed felt systemically neglected by the authorities, they voiced their dissatisfaction through rioting.

However, the condoners of violence who hijacked MLK’s moral authority confused MLK’s knowledge of the structural reasons that created riots, with MLK acknowledging rioting as a form of resistance.

Of course, that is not the case. MLK also stated, “Let me say, as I’ve always said and will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. I’m still convinced that nonviolence is the most potent weapon available to oppress people in their struggle for freedom and justice. I feel that violence will only create more social problems than they will solve, that in a real sense, it is impractical for the Negro to even think of mounting a violent revolution in the United States. So, I will continue to condemn riots and continue to say to my brothers and sisters that this is not the way.”

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Jpharoahdoss

J. Pharoah Doss is a columnist for the New Pittsburgh Courier.