‘A riot is the language of the unheard’: What Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King Said and Why It Applies Today

20 Cities across the country experienced some level of unrest, what occurred next was the carnivorous feeding frenzy by our collective news media

A Riot is the Language of the Unheard

“Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention”- Dr. Martin Luther King

Some Americans are rubbing their necks, apparent victims of whiplash caused by watching cable news. The evenings coverage started as coverage of a protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. Viewing the 8 minutes of terror as we see a man with an officer’s knee on his neck, gasping for air, “I can’t breathe”.

There were four officers at the scene, clearly from the video, he’s handcuffed and apparently under police control, as the life is being squeezed out of his body, he called for his mother, “mom-aaaaaaa”. When asked “why”, by horrified onlookers, an officer says, “don’t do drugs”. Over 8 minutes constrained by a knee. According to multiple reports an officer at the scene took a pulse and found none.

We now know that for 2 minutes after he lost consciousness, the officer’s knee was on this man’s throat.

On Thursday, Minneapolis Minnesota caught afire, by Friday night America was burning, 20 cities in unrest.  Even the White House couldn’t escape the wrath of people caught in the middle of a pandemic, risking their lives to appear at the executive mansion to protest; not only the killing of George Floyd, but to protest a President whose seemingly without empathy.


Saturday May 30, 2020 at 3.00 pm, the protest energy reached Syracuse, NY as people gathered in front of the Justice Center in downtown blocking traffic and chanting among the most memorable, “Keep your knees off our necks”.

Cumulative Convulsion

Nationwide protests 5 29 2020

Georgia February 23, 2020- Ahmaud Arbery, chased down by two white men and shot while jogging. In Kentucky March 13, 2020- Breonna Taylor was shot after police entered the home, in plain clothes. Believing it was a home invasion her male companion shot at the police; in returning fire Breonna, a healthcare professional was shot and killed. The person the police were looking for was already in custody.

In Minnesota on May 25, George Floyd became the third person this year to die due to police violence which turned the situation volcanic, a catalyst for civil disobedience, his death unleashed a cumulative convulsion from not only the African American community, the entire nation recoiled.  Enough is enough, is enough, is enough, is enough, is enough, is enough!

The arrest of Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin brought little comfort to Minneapolis residents. As Americans viewed the video there was a collective search for air, as we watched a man die, “I can’t breathe”.

What occurred next was the carnivorous feeding frenzy by our collective news media, you pick it; television reporters and news-infotainment hosts, newspapers, politicians, all jumped on this like a weaponized flesh-eating bacterium.

Pandemic Pandemonium

Pandemic Pandemonium had another bright shiny replacement object, a protest. After months of daily death counts and mask wars, there was a new thing to cover.

And as predictable as a cuckoo clock at midnight, here comes President Trump with a gas can full of kerosene. He let it be known without speaking with governors of the state, the Pentagon placed Military Police on alert for deployment to Minneapolis.

When the sun went down and the night progressed, you would think there was an insurgency occurring in the United States. In Brady Bunch/Zoom inspired squares, on screen from multiple municipalities.  At one-point there were more than twenty cities involved in demonstrating against police brutality, Brian Williams of MSNBC says, “they’re spreading across the country in cities too many to name them all.”  In Atlanta, CNN filmed protesters descend on their headquarters breaking windows, even defacing (gasp) the CNN logo.

“We Were Overwhelmed”

The Governor of Minnesota took to the podium accepting responsibility for not requesting more assistance, “We were overwhelmed”

TV cameras were all over the country looking for any evidence of discord. If you had a pig on a stick in a barbeque pit, you could probably get on the news.

Protests were occurring peaceably across the country. Once the first building was torched, the first item taken from Target, the tone changed. I got the phone call from a white friend, “Ken, why are they torching their own community, that’s stupid. Don’t they know, they’re hurting themselves?” My response, “look at all the white people out there, and look, there’s a picture of a white guy casually walking out of Target with something large in his hand. I’m sure he wasn’t redeeming his Red Circle points.”

The Dr. Martin Luther King quote which contains, “A riot is the language of the unheard” could have been written 53 years ago or 53 minutes from now. Only one word has changed in 53 years, describing the plight of African-Americans, and that’s the word “Negro”.

Cover File photo, Map USA Today 5 29 20