Other People’s Riots

Other People’s Riots January 19, 2021

Yesterday at the Conspiracy, I wrote on MLK’s legacy of peace. Today I want to look at one of his oft-quoted statements on riots:

“I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Here’s a Time article from 2015 discussing that year’s riots in Baltimore in light of Martin Luther King Jr.’s reflections on rioting and racial injustice.

Here’s the Grosse Point Historical Society’s complete text of a speech MLK gave that puts the above quote into context.

I recommend reading it.


So here’s the clincher, on point for tomorrow’s inauguration and for this weekend’s Good Discourse conference (last-minute registration is still open, still free of charge):

We need to seriously consider that there may be merit to other side’s protests, even when they grow violent.

We can’t only issue MLK-passes for our own side.

It’s not that their rioters are lawless hooligans and ours are just seized with a surfeit of exuberance.  It’s not that their leaders are power-hungry sociopaths seeking to destroy all that is right and good in the world and their followers are brainwashed murder machines, but our side is sweetness and light with a touch of loveable rogue.

That’s not how this works.

How it works is that although it is a fallen world, and corruption is real, and sometimes the opposition really are murderous thugs, often our honest opponent is, in fact, an honest opponent. Flawed?  Sure. Wrong? Quite possibly. Plagued by a following, or a leadership, that uses any pretext to take advantage?  Who isn’t.

If you want peace you have to let go of the hysteria.  You have to stop assuming that the very deeply misguided citizens on the other side, who make up about half the country’s voters, are nothing but raving lunatics.

Maybe they are people who have some valid concerns.

Maybe they are people who don’t like their very few political options, and have made a poor choice.

Maybe they are feeling very desperate for reasons you could understand and respond to, if only you gave your opposition a proper hearing.


If you don’t want peace, that’s another story.  At least be honest about that.


A lot of us do want peace.

I can’t comment knowledgeably on historian Brett Devereaux’s comparison of our present civil strife with that of the ancient democracies, but I do agree with one of his prescriptions for safeguarding peace in the face of an attempted insurrection: Moderates need to form a coalition across party lines.

This requires compromising, which requires recognizing that your opponent may have legitimate reasons for valuing a policy position you find inscrutable.

all-black cat next to screen of Brett Devereaux's essay, which is illustrated with photos of his all-black cats.

Photo: Mr. Purrkins approving of the photos accompanying Prof. Devereaux’s essay. (Edited to suggest you click through to see what those photos are, since when we captured our moment this morning, we were on a lump of nothing but text.)


Browse Our Archives