The son of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. has said that the police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd acted as “judge, jury and executioner” – and that even from a position of non-violence, he can understand why protesters have been looting and burning across the US since Mr Floyd’s death.
Martin Luther King III told the BBC’s Today programme that what happened to Mr Floyd was sadly familiar. “We’ve seen these kind of incidents happen in the African-American community,” he said, “and by the hands of policemen, over and over and over again.
“When is enough going to be enough? When are law enforcement people going to treat African-Americans in the same way that everyone else is treated?”
Mr Floyd died in Minneapolis last week after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes during an arrest for a minor incident. His killing has sparked days of protest in cities across the US, with thousands of people outraged at culture of police racism and brutality taking to the streets, some of them looting and vandalising businesses and property.
In many cases, police have met them with pepper spray, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets.
Reflecting on the violence, Mr King, the oldest son of Dr King and a civil rights activist himself, recalled his father’s commitment to non-violence – but also his circumspection about why people might riot in the first place.
“I can never condone violence. I have to always believe there are other ways to resolve conflict. My father and his team always advocated for non-violence, although they understood why people resort to violence.
“Well, my father used to say violence is the language of the unheard. And so people’s voices have not been heard, obviously, because these kind of things keep happening and keep happening … When my father was killed, the nation erupted into this kind of violence, over a hundred cities went up in flames.
“That’s not what Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted to have happened. But he also would have said, ‘Based on the circumstances, I certainly understand what people feel they’re going through.’ When you push someone up into a corner, at some point people will come out and react in ways that some would say are not responsible.”
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