Martin Luther King III on George Floyd Protests, Racial Justice and Police Reform

Ameera Butt
June 25, 2020 - 5:31 pm

In light of recent weeks' demonstrations over police brutality, has there been progress made in civil rights from when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was leading protests to now?

We ask Martin Luther King III, son of the legendary civil rights movement leader.

King tackled that question and more including police reform and racial justice, with co-hosts Charles Feldman and Mike Simpson during Thursday's KNX In-Depth. He is a human and civil rights activist and has gone one to continue the fight for racial equality just like his father.

King said he doesn't think the way of leading a civil rights movement is different from when his father was alive to now.

"Dad used non-violence as a means to an end. In addition to protesting there also was public policy that came behind the campaigns he was engaged in," he said adding there was the march in Birmingham in 1963 and the next year, the Civil Rights Act was passed.

He said today there has to be new legislation that is created or the legislation already in place has to be bolstered. 

King was asked to rate the progress in the progress of civil rights from when his father was an activist to recently.

"I would have to say there has been some progress in some areas and it more, in my judgment, revolves around the individuals who have become more accomplished because of conditions in our society," King said. "But unfortunately, the masses of the Black people have not benefitted from the various laws that have been put in place particularly like looking at access to capital and the issue of African American wealth maybe $17,000 compared white wealth $170,000. There has been no real growth...it's still a huge disparity."

In the wake of the death of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, protests spread out across the nation with people calling for racial justice and speaking out against police brutality. Nationwide, statues honoring Confederate figures in U.S. history toppled, and with that came name changes for brands too. Brands like Aunt Jemima and others updated their names and removed imagery that promoted racial stereotypes and apologized for the racist connotations.

In California, the Legislature has OK-ed a plan to overturn the state's affirmative action ban. The protests brought waves of change including the city of Los Angeles looking into cutting its own LAPD police budget as well as other cities calling to defund the police.

King said as it relates to policing, specifically, these incidents have always occurred.

"Today, we are able to capture them because of devices like smartphones," King said. "The goal and the hope is the tragic George Floyd killing may have awakened our nation so that we as a nation will engage in something differently, and a behavior that is different but it is very obvious to black folks. Maybe some in the white community are just now realizing 'well maybe there is a problem.'" 

Does it feel different or does he feel discouraged?

"I am always bothered by where we are, but I am not discouraged," he said. 

He talked of the protests happening across the world in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

"I am more encouraged at this moment because for the first time the populations of the world have been galvanized and the notion of Black Lives Matter is being exhibited all over the world," he said. 

He recalled how 52 years ago, his father led sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., fighting for a living wage and asking to be treated like human beings.

He said 52 years later Blacks, whites, Latino's and Hispanics and others are holding signs that say "Black Lives Matter" and black folks are still asking for dignity and respect and treated as human beings. 

"There has been some movement but nowhere near enough," he said.

King said the demonstrations like the ones happening over racial inequity recently "will continue to go on."

He added unfortunately, there may be more incidents, like the killing of George Floyd, citing the incidents of Rayshard Brooks' fatal shooting in Atlanta and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

"My point is, these kinds of things may continue to happen until we figure out a constructive way to hold police accountable," King said.

He said "that just has not been the case" adding that's where the civilian review boards come in and have to have independent abilities to look at situations.

King added there have to be independent prosecutors who are not involved with working with police on a daily basis.

"The system itself has to be restructured and I think some of that we will begin to see but I am certainly very concerned," King said.

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