Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech shook up America during the 1960s. As profound and moving as that speech was, and still is today, we must keep in mind that everything starts as a dream, but requires action to make it a reality. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired people to do better as a community during a time when equality was just a word with no contextual meaning. Thirty years later, during the 1990s, Americans strayed even further from gaining a true understanding of the word equality. Mass racial violence is far from Dr. King’s dream. The ‘90s saw many riots brought on by longstanding racial tensions between police and minority communities.
Rodney Glen King III was an African American taxi driver, but more importantly, he was a symbol of racial tension in 1992. The video seen around the world featured King being relentlessly beaten in Los Angeles by four white police officers. The acquittal of all four of the Los Angeles Police Department officers triggered riots across LA, which resulted in over 50 fatalities. Some people have argued that if King had been white this would never have happened, while others argued that race was not the only issue. Regardless of opinion, we can’t ignore facts. Racism played a huge role in police brutality in the ‘90s, and the Rodney King beating brought to public conversation the issue of excessive force in American policing.
The race conversation fast forwards to 2016; do you see the connection? Is there still hope for MLK’s vision of equality in today’s society? The “Black Lives Matter” movement is a relatively new movement that has impacted this generation, but the meaning behind it has not changed since the 1990s, or even the 1960s. According to NPR.org, “the movement was formed three years ago in 2013 and the phrase — ‘Black Lives Matter’ — first came up in a frustrated Facebook post in response to the George Zimmerman case.” The term refers to African-Americans taking back their lives because they are tired of being deprived of human rights.
In 2014, Eric Garner, an African American civilian (like Rodney King), became a yet another victim of excessive police brutality. Locked in a tight chokehold, he shouted his last words ever, “I can’t breathe.” Those words heightened the force behind the “Black Lives Matter” movement, but it wasn’t only the death of Garner that added fuel to the movement. According to The Guardian’s police killings database,
"215 BLACK AMERICANS HAVE BEEN KILLED BY POLICE SO FAR THIS YEAR, AT A RATE OF 5.83 DEATHS PER MILLION."
February and March were the deadliest months this year, with 100 people killed by police each month. The only thing that a person can wonder is: is this a never ending cycle?
Nancy Xicohtencatl, a freshman radiology major, had an insightful answer: “I think that it will always be an issue,” she said. “Let’s be real about the lives of African Americans. They are being discriminated against and judged because of stereotypes that were given to them, and others wouldn’t understand because they haven’t been exposed to the injustices. White people are on the better half of the social divide,” she added.
There are many arguments against the BLM movement. Justin Oyola, a sophomore international business and marketing major, said that “it’s not just black lives that matter; all lives do. However, I think the Black Lives Matter movement is trying to emphasize that there is evident proof that black lives matter less than white lives to the American government. Yet, Muslims, Hispanics and other minority groups are being treated unjustly as well; but we rarely hear about that in the news,” he said.
Martin Luther King had a dream of equality and peace. Rodney King said, “people can all get along,” after the riots erupted in LA. Eric Garner’s family said, “let’s keep the peace, we all are hurting,” in an effort to calm protesters. Regardless of skin color, everyone wants the same thing: peace. But we cannot achieve peace without acknowledging and accepting that skin color does play an important role in America’s cultural divide.