How often do corporate media mention that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Dream” speech called out “the unspeakable horrors of police brutality?” Never. But Ferguson and Staten Island call to mind those words and others by MLK, such as, “Riot is the language of the unheard” and his naming “[his] own government … the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
Today’s police use militarized force to “protect and serve” the One Percent and intimidation to silence critics. St. Louis cops last week demanded that five black NFL players on the hometown Rams be disciplined for publicly showing solidarity with Ferguson protestors. And, for the past seven months, police pressured the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) into eliminating a lesson about MLK’s deepest critique of American injustice. But persistent protest defeated this censorship.
Last April, Fox News reported that the national Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) objected to a history unit on MLK’s little-known radical ideas posted on the OUSD website. The unit included a lesson asking students to consider a parallel between textbooks’ exclusion of King’s radical ideas and media censorship of the most controversial death-penalty case of our time: the 1982 conviction of ex-Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal for killing a Philadelphia cop.
OUSD submitted to police pressure by taking the MLK unit offline, along with 26 other social justice lessons collectively called Urban Dreams. This ensured that students wouldn’t learn about MLK’s ideas challenging American society’s core values or about Abu-Jamal, the nation’s best-known critic of police violence.
The FOP professed reverence for MLK and outrage that a lesson connected him to Abu-Jamal. But police also spied on, abused, and threatened King. In his final year, King consistently opposed the Vietnam War, US aggression worldwide, and a system in which “profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people.” He was murdered weeks before he was to lead a multiracial Poor People’s campaign to occupy Washington, DC.
OUSD’s decision to repost Urban Dreams shows that police censorship can be defeated. Persistent pressure from community supporters, teacher unions, the county labor council, Ed Asner, and Alice Walker prevailed. But the forces of “law and order” won’t relent. It took activism by millions to win Civil Rights movement demands and end the Vietnam War. It will take more to achieve what King and Abu-Jamal both have advocated: a society with jobs, housing, food, education, medical care, and a healthy environment for all.