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On Violence and Nonviolence

IN THE MONTH following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., black uprisings erupted in more than 125 cities, leading to 50 deaths and more than 15,000 arrests. In the years that followed (1968-72), at least

960 segregated black communities witnessed 2,310 separate incidents of what journalists and state security officials described as “disturbances,” “uprisings,” “rebellions,” “melees,” “eruptions,” or “riots.” This type of collective violence almost always started with contact between residents and the frontline representatives of the state—the police—and then quickly moved to other institutions. Indeed, following King’s murder, many black residents in cities across the United States responded to the process of criminalization and unanswered calls for greater socioeconomic inclusion by throwing rocks and punches at police officers, detonating firebombs, and plundering local stores.

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