Many supporters of the riots argue that this is the only form of expression that the Baltimore oppressed have. The opposition to the riots counters the argument by claiming that peaceful protests is another avenue of expression, often looking to Martin Luther King Jr. as an example. When doing so, however, the opposition fails to highlight the differences in the situation of the Baltimore oppressed and Martin Luther King Jr.
For starters, MLK received a PhD from Boston University. Dr. King was a well-educated man, a pastor in his church and a son to another successful man. His father, Martin Luther King Sr., was a reverend in his church, and leader of the NAACP, before his son became an influential figure. Both were widely respected people in the African American community, and simultaneously commanded a degree of respect from the white community. Simply put, they were established in society. The Kings had a voice.
Those in Baltimore are victims of oppression in ways besides just being “black”; Baltimore is one of the most segregated cities in the United States, garnering a black-white dissimilarity score of 64.3–and any score above 60 is considered very high segregation. According to socioeconomic and racial diversity maps, they are on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, and it’s not uncommon to hear stories of people who have not had the opportunity to go to college, for when a majority of the black population lives in the inner city, and western suburbia, most spending on education will be focused on the “white areas.” This limits the potential of the black community’s education.
Thus, by comparing MLK’s upbringing and situations to that of Baltimore’s African American community, one can see clear differences. Dr. King – with the exception of being black – was not a victim of the oppression he was fighting. He had blatant privileges that the people he was fighting for lacked: People–white and black–heard his voice. He was not ignored, so peaceful demonstration was a viable option for him to use. If the oppressed in Baltimore, who have no voice, expect to be productive, then peaceful demonstration is not the way to go. Just like the “#blacklivesmatter” movement, it would be ignored, co-opted and diluted, if not completely dissolved by lack of media attention. The goal for the oppressed is to make change, and in this process they cannot be ignored. These riots are the only way for the voiceless to be heard. As Martin Luther King himself once said, “A riot is language of the unheard.”
To make comparisons between Martin Luther King’s approach to reform and Baltimore’s black community is preposterous. If one feels so inclined to make comparisons between well-known and accomplished civil rights leaders and to Baltimore’s black community, make sure they are valid. Rather than MLK, a better example would be to compare the Baltimore oppressed to Malcolm X. Malcolm X was harassed for years growing up by white supremacy groups. The KKK burned down his home, and he resorted to violence in order to make change. This comparison is far more viable; Malcolm X was a direct victim of the oppression he was fighting against in many different ways. And just like the oppressed in Baltimore, his voice was muted, until after the violence and unrest.
I am not saying violence and unrest is the only way to go if one expects to make change. But on the other hand, I cannot say that what is happening in Baltimore is completely wrong. Evidence alludes to the fact that when a community is unheard, their attempts at “peaceful protests” do not work, and unrest does. In no way are the Baltimore riots illegitimate, and comparing them to Martin Luther King’s movement is delegitimizing and outrageous. Comparing someone who had opportunities that the oppressed community do not have is completely wrong. Obviously a guy with a PhD and father who was the leader of the NAACP will be respected and heard by the community as a whole. To compare a man like that to people who have no voice and limited opportunity, on the basis of virtually only skin color, is simply bigotry.
To burn down buildings, and destroy homes and businesses is not justifiable; however, when you strip a community of their dignity, you leave them with nothing left to lose–an atrocious predicament which forces one to question why we feel it necessary to undermine the struggles faced by those oppressed today.