Joan had some interesting thoughts up on MLK Day. Unfortuanetly, the comments rapidly devolved. For example, when some folks essentially said, "The KKK was evil; law enforcement was in cahoots with them; some black people chose armed self defense" she read that as somehow racist and supportive of the Klan. Huh?
She also accuses us of trying to rewrite history. This is my reply, which I fear may be headed for the RD trashpile:
I am just amazed that you guys are trying to rewrite commonly held American views on what happened during the awful period with the KKK and civil rights.
We celebrate MLK in part because he was a martyr. He recognized that there was a threat to his personal safety, decided that non-violent resistance was the best course of action for his cause, and eschewed tools of self-defense. He could have had bodyguards or hid behind a bulletproof glass "popemobile" screen or not made public appearances. That's heroic by anyone's measure; it is the very definition of a martyr in the example of Jesus or the saints to suffer persecution and death for a righteous cause.
However, I don't think that most religious or secular leaders would be disturbed at the idea of self-defense -- including armed, lethal self-defense -- especially in a case where the death of the innocent is irrelevant to the cause. For example, if a white policeman's attack dog tears out the throat of a protestor on national TV, then that is martyrdom. If that same policeman puts on a white robe and pays a housecall with his buddies at night when there's nobody watching and lynches the victim, then what has that accomplished for the cause? God has given us bodies and minds and intends for us to use them and take care of them (1 Cor 3:16-17). There was debate and discussion within the civil rights movement about this, and I think it would also be worth differentiating the aggressive generally indiscriminate violence advocated by some groups such as the Black Panthers and the more measured self-defense advocated by other groups (Deacons for Defense).
Some people -- likely a minority -- who were in the civil rights movement or who lived under Jim Crow persecution clearly chose armed self defense, despite the laws that prevented them from lawfully acquiring and carrying weapons. Anecdotally, there are many stories that describe lives saved. The number of armed blacks in the movement was less than 100% but greater than 0%. Given that even under laws like those in Alaska only around 65% of people own firearms and only 2-5% actually carry arms on a regular basis, a "WAG" (wild arse guesstimate) of 2-10% of African-Americans regularly carrying in the 1960s is probably in the ballpark (could be on the low-end due to highly restrictive laws that suppressed gun ownership and carry, or on the high end due to the breakdown of the justice system and extraordinary threats faced by African Americans).
This isn't just right-wing gun nuttery, either; "Remember the Titans," a major film (and a great movie about an inspiring story) depicts the black football coach as swiftly responding to an attack on his house with a shotgun. Note that in real life, Coach Boone didn't own a shotgun (although his house was attacked), however, the point is that a mainstream major film from our time chose to include an incident of armed self-defense; I just skimmed his bio and filmography but the director, Boaz Yakin, doesn't seem like an extremist right winger out to rewrite history to me. Daily Kos, a left wing progressive blog that normally strongly supports gun control, even points out many of these things. Is Daily Kos now out to rewrite history?
MLK was a martyr for his cause, but not everyone is called to be a martyr. There was a role for non-violent resistance, and a role for armed self-defense. The efforts of each group probably aided the overall cause in a synergistic manner. Most insurgencies -- and that is what the Civil Rights movement often was, an insurgency against corrupt and discriminatory state governments -- fail. One study found that nonviolent campaigns succeed around half of the time and violent struggles succeed only a quarter of the time (1900-2006). However, the study makes no effort to classify the effectiveness of campaigns which include both; renouncing the strong-arm aggressive tactics of, say, the Black Panthers but including a component of armed self defense. Anecdotally, at least, it is an effective strategy; self-defense doesn't undermine the legitimacy, broad participation, and pressure brought to bear by the non-violent agitators like aggression does.
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