What causes riots? One professor weighs in

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said these words more than 50 years ago:

“A riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?”

This week, we’ve heard that same language across Minneapolis and other cities as protesters burned police precincts and looted businesses in response to George Floyd’s death.

“This is what people do when they have not been heard, when they have been disempowered,” Dr. Charles McKinney, an African American history professor at Rhodes College, told WHBQ-TV.

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McKinney said riots can bring moments of clarity, highlighting years of systemic issues that may be plaguing a community.

“Everybody in the country right now is talking about police brutality. Right and again this is what happens when those conversations aren’t elevated, aren’t taken seriously by people in power, by people who could actually police brutality,” McKinney said.

“What is it that America has failed to hear?” King asked.

McKinney said it’s now time to see how elected officials will respond to address the underlying issues that bubbled over during these riots.

“What does it look like to increase and heighten accountability? What does it look like to start thinking critically and seriously about, you know, making police brutality a central issue in the election of district attorneys and mayors?” McKinney asked.

McKinney said it will take major policy reform to address these systemic issues.