WASHINGTON — You're going to hear this quote quite a bit in the next few days: "A riot is the language of the unheard." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said this during a speech he called "The Other America."
What you probably won't hear, is the question he asked that followed: "What is it that America has failed to hear?"
This was rhetorical. He had the answers ready. He said that it failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. That large segments of society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. This was 1967.
For the past few days, we have seen the fires of riots in Minneapolis. We saw riots in Ferguson. We saw riots in Baltimore. All following needless death. All carried out by the unheard, or "thugs" in the words of our president, which only seems to describe one kind of person.
You're going to hear the condemnations of looters, and we should condemn them. There are always going to be those that take advantage of situations like this, but this minority should not be allowed to tarnish the very real anger and pain this community, and others across America, feel. And the absence of reaction, of understanding, of listening, of change that tells this community that you don't care.
In fact, whole campaigns have been constructed just to muzzle the mere voicing that a problem exists #AllLivesMatter.
I'm going to paraphrase Dr. King again: Riots don’t appear out of thin air. The seeds were planted long ago. Nurtured in this community by an authority that doesn’t seem to be concerned with its humanity, and by a society that seemingly pays lip service to justice and equality.
We speak out, but when we do, we're told that we're too loud. If we want results, we should speak in a more peaceful manner. When we march peacefully, we are told to not be an inconvenience. And when we take a knee, we are told that’s too much. Too disrespectful. All the while the communities remain unheard, forced to live with their fears. Until they become too much to bear.
If you want an end to riots, then learn to listen. Don't question. Don't condemn. Listen. Maybe then, justice can be met and true freedom will come. That is if, and I mean if, justice and true freedom for all are the ends we seek. Or if in the words of Dr. King, we are merely paying lip service.