In “Hodges’ measured response is just right” (Nov. 22), columnist Jon Tevlin — quoting Prof. Larry Jacobs and former Minneapolis City Council President Paul Ostrow — lauds Mayor Betsy Hodges for her “measured” approach and criticizes some council members who participated in Black Lives Matter protests as irresponsible. In the article, Tevlin, while not directly rejecting the Black Lives Matter movement or their justice claims, rejects what he calls “political theatrics and opportunism.”
In doing so, Tevlin reprises one of the most important moments in the historic civil rights movement. He and Star Tribune readers who agree with this “measured” approach would be well-served by remembering it.
On April 16, 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Four days earlier, a group of eight white clergy members, with the support of some white “moderates” — including businessmen, journalists, political leaders and academics — had published a letter calling for an end to civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Ala. They called for “law and order” and “common sense.” They urged that “racial matters” be “properly pursued in the courts” and applauded “responsible citizens” who were engaged in a “constructive and realistic approach” to racial problems.
By contrast, they criticized “outsiders” who were “impatient” and led demonstrations that were “unwise and untimely” and “extreme.” In short, they wanted an end to what could be called “political theatrics and opportunism” and a return to moderation and caution.
The similarities between the clergy letter 52 years ago and Tevlin’s column are striking. In both, people in positions of relative power and privilege patronizingly lecture civil rights leaders about how “properly” to express their grievances. And just as King argued 52 years ago, “responsibility” and “moderation” are code words for inaction and the status quo.
In Birmingham in the 1960s, the calls of moderates to be “measured” and cautious rang hollow. King knew then, and the Black Lives Matter movement knows now, that the slow path of patience is a path of injustice. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) called the action in Birmingham “Project C” — for “confrontation.” The SCLC understood that only by direct action — by causing confrontations and disruptions — would the patterns of discrimination, oppression and injustice be eliminated. They also understood that no amount of patience and “measuredness” would cause people in positions of power and privilege truly to confront the oppression they had created. So, King refused to wait and refused to support a “measured” response.
This is the precise reason Black Lives Matter leaders are creating disruptions and confrontations. In Minneapolis, the movement calls for an end to racial and economic injustice — injustices ranging from the killing of unarmed suspects such as Jamar Clark to the systematic residential and economic discrimination that has led to the widespread poverty and suffering in north Minneapolis to the low wages that so many African-Americans must face.
Black Lives Matter is not a movement of convenience, comfort or slow change. It is a movement that is causing disruptions to force people of privilege to accept the end to injustices.
When leaders such as U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, state Rep. Raymond Dehn and Council Members Lisa Bender, Alondra Cano and Cam Gordon participate in Black Lives Matter actions, they are not outsiders and irresponsible agitators. Rather, these elected officials are demonstrating leadership and a profound understanding that the urgent problem of racial injustice requires urgent response.
Matthew Filner is a political science professor at Metropolitan State University. His views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.