Can’t Believe We Have To Say This But Yeah, Dr. King Got Arrested A Lot

History Facts
Can’t Believe We Have To Say This But Yeah, Dr. King Got Arrested A Lot

There’s a little over a week left in Black History Month, and Republicans are packing in some last-minute racial insults.

This week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked emergency powers in response to anti-vax truckers literally occupying the nation’s capital. Once-tough-on-crime rightwingers were aghast. Tucker Carlson ranted about Trudeau’s “Canadian-style tyranny” yet during 2020’s racial justice protests, he denounced US leaders (mostly Democrats) for failing to act while “the nation goes up in flames."

The racist double-standard is predictable, but Fox News legal analyst Jonathan Turley took it to an obscene level when he compared the illegal occupation to the Civil Rights Movement.

Here’s the video:

[The convoy] is an act of civil disobedience. That was a standard tactic going back to the Civil Rights Movement … to block bridges and streets … to do what was referred to as “good trouble.” By this rationale, they could have cracked down on the Civil Rights Movement. They could have arrested Martin Luther King.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was known for his spotless arrest record, and we’ve all studied his powerful essay, “Letter From A Birmingham Day Spa.”

This is why these dummies need critical race theory: Turley is a professor at George Washington University Law School, but he doesn’t know that Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested 29 times in his adult life. (He was murdered at 39, so do some quick math.)

King was first arrested in 1956 after he’d just turned 27. This was part of a Montgomery, Alabama’s “get tough” policy intended to intimidate bus boycotters. Four days after his arrest, his home was bombed. He was arrested again in March along with Rosa Parks and more than 100 others on charges of organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott. (The arrest might not have been entirely on the up and up.)

In September 1958, King tried to attend the arraignment of a man accused of assaulting his friend and civil rights leader, the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy. Two cops barred him from entering the courtroom and when he told them he’d wait outside, they twisted his arm behind his back and charged him with “loitering.” He was convicted of disobeying a police order and sentenced to 14 days in jail but was released after the police commissioner paid his fine.

He was arrested in 1960 during an Atlanta sit-in and sentenced to four months in jail, but then presidential candidate John Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy intervened. He was arrested in Albany, Georgia, in 1961 for obstructing the sidewalk and “parading without a permit.” He was arrested again in 1962 for holding a prayer vigil.

Dr. King wrote his historic “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” after he was arrested in 1963 for demonstrating without a permit. In 1964, he was arrested for protesting against segregation of public accommodations in St. Augustine, Florida.

He was also arrested during a 1965 voting rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama. This is hardly comprehensive, but the point is the brother was arrested often and almost always for bullshit. He was arrested once for driving five miles over the speed limit in Montgomery, Alabama.

Turley’s appalling ignorance doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s part of white America’s deliberate whitewash of Dr. King’s legacy. Conservatives want to promote a narrative where Dr. King’s work was easy. He showed up, gave some speeches, and white people changed their minds about the water fountains. In reality, Dr. King was subjected to a state-sanctioned campaign of harassment and violent intimidation. He endured.

As Nicholas Grossman, senior editor at Arc Digital, observed on Twitter, conservatives feel entitled to their own "civil disobedience” but without any sacrifice or accountability. It’s important to note that Dr. King never promoted lawlessness or violence. He didn’t reject laws simply because he disagreed with them. After all, that would make him no different than racists who defied laws desegregating schools and other public spaces. Dr. King’s morality had no room for “both sides.”

In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Dr. King also challenged the inherent illegitimacy of Jim Crow laws in states where the Black population had no real voice or influence. White anti-vaxxers in both America and Canada can’t make similar arguments. They aren’t victims of tyranny. They are just spoiled brats who resent when democracy occasionally disagrees with them.

[The Atlantic / Black History]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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