TIME Race

Topless Women Stage #SayHerName Rally Against Perceived Police Brutality

Campaigners want to raise awareness of the deaths of black women and girls at the hands of police

A group of black women staged a topless protest Thursday, blocking traffic in downtown San Francisco to draw attention to the killing of black women and children by police.

The demonstration was part of a nationwide day of action to protest the deaths of Aiyana Jones, Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Rekia Boyd and other women and girls killed by law-enforcement officers, reports USA Today.

The rally followed the release of a report Wednesday by the African American Policy Forum named Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, which highlights the stories of black women who have suffered from alleged police brutality.

Protesters held signs with the hashtag #SayHerName and posters with the names and pictures of black women who have died.

“We also understand that we live in a country that commodifies black women and black bodies but ignores the death of black women and black girls,” said Chinyere Tutashinda, founding member of the BlackOut Collective and a member of the Bay Area chapter of Black Lives Matter.

Campaigners said rallies raising awareness of police brutality in the wake of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and others had focused on black men who had died, and overlooked the many black women who have suffered the same fate.

Protests and vigils took place in cities across the country including New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, two months after an officer was acquitted for the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Boyd.

[USA Today]

TIME Music

When Bob Dylan Took a Stand Against Censorship

Bob Dylan On The Ed Sullivan Show
CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images Bob Dylan during rehearsals for the Ed Sullivan Show on May 12, 1963

May 12, 1963: Bob Dylan walks off the Ed Sullivan Show

Performing on The Ed Sullivan Show might have helped launch the careers of Elvis Presley and the Beatles, but Bob Dylan took a different approach to fame: courting celebrity by not performing.

Dylan was slated to appear on the massively popular variety show on this day, May 12, in 1963 — a year before the Beatles. At the time, he was little known by mainstream audiences, although TIME had referred to him a year earlier as “a promising young hobo.”

“He dresses in sheepskin and a black corduroy Huck Finn cap, which covers only a small part of his long, tumbling hair,” TIME’s 1962 story attests. “[H]e delivers his songs in a studied nasal that has just the right clothespin-on-the-nose honesty to appeal to those who most deeply care.”

On Ed Sullivan, Dylan planned to put a spin on his clothespin-on-the-nose honesty with “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” a satirical song written from the perspective of a John Birch Society member who is so terrified of communist infiltration that he looks for Reds everywhere, including in his chimney, toilet and glove box.

Sullivan himself apparently had no problem with the song when Dylan auditioned it, but a CBS executive who heard it during dress rehearsal found it too controversial. Dylan was told he’d have to sing a different song or change the lyrics, which included, “Now Eisenhower, he’s a Russian spy/ Lincoln, Jefferson, and that Roosevelt guy/ To my knowledge there’s just one man/ That’s really a true American: George Lincoln Rockwell.” (Rockwell was the founder of the American Nazi Party.)

Dylan refused to change the song or pick another, and walked out instead.

It wasn’t the first time a musical act had been censored on Sullivan’s show. The Rolling Stones were told to change “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” — and obliged. The Doors were told to change a line from “Light My Fire” from “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” to “Girl, we couldn’t get much better.” Jim Morrison agreed to make the switch, but sang the original live, and the band was banned from the show.

The trouble didn’t end for Dylan when he left the Ed Sullivan set, however. CBS also owned his record label, Columbia Records, and when executives there heard that the song’s lyrics might be grounds for libel, they pulled it from his second album, according to Rolling Stone.

Even though he never got to play the song, Dylan still got some press from the non-appearance. He clearly occupied the moral high ground in the New York Times’ dispatch about the dustup, headlined “Satire on Birch Society Barred from Ed Sullivan’s TV Show.” And, per Rolling Stone, he bounced back from the crushing disappointment when someone told him, “Man, you got a lot of free publicity. A real underdog.”

Read TIME’s 1962 cover story about folk music, here in the archives: Sibyl with Guitar

TIME Israel

Why the Latest Protest Against Police Brutality Is Happening in Israel

Demonstrators confront Israeli policemen, during a demonstration of Ethiopian Jews at RABIN Square in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2015.
Omer Messinger—AP Protesters confront Israeli policemen during a demonstration of Ethiopian Jews in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2015

Scores are hurt in weekend protests in Tel Aviv as Ethiopian Israelis rally against what they say is long-running racism

Masses of protesters gathering in the streets, some throwing rocks and bottles at the police. In full riot gear, the police respond in force, shooting tear-gas canisters, percussion bombs and water guns. By the end of the evening, 46 injured people are sent to area hospitals.

Scenes of violent protest are something that people in Israel are used to seeing periodically, though it is usually in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This time, though, the rage involves youth Israelis of Ethiopian descent who are angry at their own government.

Complaints of discrimination in all sectors of society — including housing, education and the workplace — are common from Ethiopian Israelis. But the issue of police brutality toward the group came to the forefront in the past week when a video surfaced last Thursday showing police beating a young Ethiopian-Israeli soldier in uniform. A protest against police brutality spilled over into violence in Jerusalem last Thursday night. Those protests continued over the weekend, and on Sunday evening, Rabin Square in the heart of Tel Aviv began to look like an intifada-era conflict zone.

What are Ethiopian-Israelis angry about? Since they began immigrating to Israel in the 1980s, Ethiopians have struggled to integrate into Israeli society. There are more than 135,00 Israelis of Ethiopian origin, according to the most recent figures from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Some came to escape famine and persecution, and all grew up on the idea of Israel as their ultimate homeland. By now, a new generation is Israeli-born, but they still face discrimination that, in the words of one activist, “is more latent than official.” In addition, some of Israel’s Orthodox rabbinical establishment question their Jewishness, which makes it difficult for them to get married in a country where civil marriage doesn’t exist.

But what touched off the current rage, so strikingly similar to the street protests over police brutality that have taken place over the past few months in the U.S., was a CCTV video. It captured an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier being thrown to the ground and beaten by two white policemen. In the video we see the policemen accost the soldier and push him, who then pushes back, and then the two men throw him to the ground and kick him.

“After being beaten up, after being violated again and again and being discriminated against, many Ethiopians wind up in jails,” says activist Fentahun Assefa-Dawit. He notes that 40% of minors in the Israeli correction system are of Ethiopian descent. “What’s different this time is the footage. And all the youngsters who might have been through this something like this, now they have proof that it occurs.”

Assefa-Dawit is the executive director of Tebeka–Advocacy for Equality and Justice for Ethiopian Israelis, an organization that receives more than 1,000 complaints of discrimination and abuse a year. It takes up the strongest cases of Ethiopians who have suffered discrimination, some of which have gone to Israel’s Supreme Court. But for young people outraged by what they’ve experienced, change is coming far too slowly.

“When an Ethiopian applies for a job, as qualified as he might be, as impressive as his CV might be, he is not going to be invited for the interview because he has an Ethiopian name,” Assefa-Dawit told journalists on Monday in a conference call before heading to a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is conferring with Ethiopian community leaders in an effort to calm the outrage. “When a local rabbinate office refuses to register a couple who wants to get married because they’re Ethiopian, when you see a school that says we cannot take more children because they have a quota of how many Ethiopians they will enroll, you can imagine what the feeling of young people will be,” he says.

Shimon Solomon, who came to Israel from Ethiopia in 1980 at the age of 12, was a member of the Israeli parliament in the last government with the Yesh Atid party. He says that although he has repeatedly brought the issue of police brutality towards Ethiopians to the authorities for several years, nothing has been done.

“What we saw in the video is nothing compared to what goes on, in fact it was less shocking that what happens to people in our community at the hands of police,” Solomon tells TIME. “When we speak to people in their neighborhoods, we hear that it’s happening all the time, that the police allow themselves to act brutally and take people aside and beat them for no reason. We turned to the police and ask them to fix this situation, but it just continued like nothing happened.”

Solomon says that the protest on Sunday started with peaceful intentions, but a small group of “anarchists — some Ethiopian and some not” wanted to push things in a more radical direction. “We wanted an aggressive demonstration, not a violent one,” says Solomon. “The point of a protest is to bring attention to a situation, not to make the situation worse.” Solomon says he was disappointed that as the anger across the Ethiopian community grew, there was silence from Israel’s leaders. “It’s too bad that he didn’t come out immediately to decry the violence and hatred.”

Netanyahu met on Monday with Ethiopian leaders in an attempt to douse the flames amid reports that there would be further protests this week. The Prime Minister is moving closer to forming a government but has still not presented one since his re-election on March 17. On Monday he decried racism and violence, and arranged a meeting with Damas Pakedeh, the soldier who was filmed being beaten by two policemen.

“I was shocked by the pictures that I saw,” Netanyahu said in comments released by his office. “We cannot accept this and the police are dealing with it. We need to change things.”

TIME protest

Workers Rally on May Day Across the World

A masked protestor runs away from tear gas during a May Day rally at Okmeydani in Istanbul on May 1, 2015.
Yasin Akgul—AFP/Getty Images A masked protestor runs away from tear gas during a May Day rally at Okmeydani in Istanbul on May 1, 2015.

May 1 regularly sees clashes between police and militant groups in some cities

(HAVANA) — Left-wing groups, governments and trade unions were staging rallies around the world Friday to mark International Workers Day.

Most events were peaceful protests for workers’ rights and world peace. But May 1 regularly sees clashes between police and militant groups in some cities.

International Workers Day originates in the United States. American unions first called for the introduction of an eight-hour working day in the second half of the 19th century. A general strike was declared to press these demands, starting May 1, 1886. The idea spread to other countries and since then workers around the world have held protests on May 1 every year, although the U.S. celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday in September.

Here’s a look at some of the May Day events around the world:

TURKEY

Police and May Day demonstrators clashed in Istanbul as crowds determined to defy a government ban tried to march to the city’s iconic Taksim Square.

Security forces pushed back demonstrators using water cannons and tear gas. Protesters retaliated by throwing stones and hurling firecrackers at police.

Authorities have blocked the square that is symbolic as the center of protests in which 34 people were killed in 1977.

Turkish newswires say that 10,000 police officers were stationed around the square Friday.

The demonstrations are the first large-scale protests since the government passed a security bill this year giving police expanded powers to crack down on protesters.

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CUBA

Thousands of people converged on Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution for the traditional May Day march, led this year by President Raul Castro and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. After attending Cuba’s celebration, Maduro was to fly back to Caracas to attend the May Day observances in his own country.

The parade featured a group of doctors who were sent to Africa to help in the fight against Ebola. Marchers waved little red, white and blue Cuban flags as well as posters with photos of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, his brother Raul, and the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Additional marches were held in major cities around the island, including Santiago and Holguin in the east.

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SOUTH KOREA

Thousands of people marched in the capital Seoul on Friday for a third week to protest government labor policies and the handling of a ferry disaster that killed more than 300 people a year ago.

Demonstrators occupied several downtown streets and sporadically clashed with police officers. Protesters tried to move buses used to block their progress. Police responded by spraying tear gas. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

South Korean labor groups have been denouncing a series of government policies they believe will reduce wages, job security and retirement benefits for state employees.

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PHILIPPINES

More than 10,000 workers and activists marched in Manila and burned an effigy of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to protest low wages and a law allowing employers to hire laborers for less than six months to avoid giving benefits received by regular workers.

Workers in metropolitan Manila now receive 481 pesos ($10.80) in daily minimum wage after a 15 peso ($0.34) increase in March.

Although it is the highest rate in the country, it is still “a far cry from being decent,” says Lito Ustarez, vice chairman of the left-wing May One Movement.

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GREECE

In financially struggling Greece, an estimated 13,000 people took part in three separate May Day marches in Athens, carrying banners and shouting anti-austerity slogans. Minor clashes broke out at the end of the peaceful marches, when a handful of hooded youths threw a petrol bomb at riot police. No injuries or arrests were reported.

Earlier, ministers from the governing radical left Syriza party joined protesters gathering for the marches, including Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis — who was mobbed by media and admirers — and the ministers of labor and energy.

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GERMANY

Police in Berlin say the traditional ‘Walpurgis Night’ protest marking the eve of May 1 was calmer than previous years.

Several thousand people took part in anti-capitalist street parties in the north of the city. Fireworks and stones were thrown at police, injuring one officer. Fifteen people were detained. Elsewhere in the German capital revelers partied “extremely peacefully,” police noted on Friday morning.

At noon, Green Party activists unveiled a statue at Alexanderplatz in central Berlin of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, considered heroes by many on the left for leaking secret U.S. intelligence and military documents. The statue, called “Anything to say,” depicts the three standing on chairs and is scheduled to go on tour around the world, according to the website http://www.anythingtosay.com/.

In the central German city of Weimar far-right extremists attacked a union event. Police said 15 people were injured and 29 were arrested.

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RUSSIA

In Moscow, tens of thousands of workers braved chilly rain to march across Red Square. Instead of the red flags with the Communist hammer and sickle used in Soviet times, they waved the blue flags of the dominant Kremlin party and the Russian tricolor.

Despite an economic crisis that is squeezing the working class, there was little if any criticism of President Vladimir Putin or his government.

The Communist Party later held a separate march under the slogan “against fascism and in support of Donbass,” with participants calling for greater support for the separatists fighting the Ukrainian army in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

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ITALY

In Milan, police released water from hydrants against hundreds of demonstrators, many of them scrawling graffiti on walls or holding smoky flares during a march in the city, where the Italian premier and other VIPs were inaugurating Expo, a world’s fair that runs for six months.

An hour into the march, protesters set at least one parked car on fire, smashed store windows, tossed bottles and chopped up pavement.

Italian labor confederation leaders held their main rally in a Sicilian town, Pozzallo, where thousands of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia have arrived in recent weeks after being rescued at sea from smugglers boats. Hoping to settle for the most part in northern Europe, the migrants are fleeing poverty as well as persecution or violent conflicts in their homelands.

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SPAIN

Around 10,000 protesters gathered under sunny skies in Madrid to take part in a May Day march under a banner saying “This is not the way to come out of the financial crisis.”

Spain’s economy is slowly emerging from the double-dip recession it hit at the end of 2013, but the country is still saddled with a staggering 23.8 percent unemployment rate.

“There should be many more of us here,” said demonstrator Leandro Pulido Arroyo, 60. “There are six million people unemployed in Spain, and many others who are semi-unemployed, who although they may be working don’t earn enough to pay for decent food.”

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POLAND

Rallies in Warsaw were muted this year after Poland’s weakened left wing opposition held no May Day parade.

Only a few hundred supporters of the Democratic Left Alliance, or SLD, and of its ally, the All-Poland Trade Union, gathered for a downtown rally Friday to demand more jobs and job security.

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BRAZIL

President Dilma Rousseff skipped her traditional televised May Day address, instead releasing a brief video calling attention to gains for workers under her leadership.

In the video, Rousseff says the minimum wage grew nearly 15 percent above the rate of inflation from 2010-2014. Her office said the choice to roll out several short videos via social media Friday was aimed at reaching a younger public.

TIME Crime

See Freddie Gray Protests Spread Across the Nation

Demonstrations inspired by those in Baltimore spread to more than 7 major U.S. cities on Wednesday, including New York, Boston, and Chicago. While the protests were mostly peaceful, there were at least 25 arrests nationwide

TIME Opinion

Lessons for Baltimore From 1968

Baltimore Arrest During Riot
Picasa / Getty Images A man carried away by police during riots, Baltimore, Maryland, 1968.

How history can heal a harmed city

In the 20 years that I have lived in Baltimore City, I have seen guns fired only twice; in each instance the targets were black men and the shooters were police. In one case the officer was trying to stop a group of men who had apparently stolen a car. They bailed out in front of my house, and as they were running away, the officer fired, but missed. In the second case the officer’s aim was better; an assailant held up a medical student on a bicycle, then ran through traffic right in front of our car. An off-duty cop saw the scuffle and fired. He turned out to be a 14-year-old with a BB gun. The boy lay in the street, shot in the stomach; my 12-year-old son and I waited until the police told us to move on. I called my district and set up an appointment with a detective. No one ever came to question me.

Those incidents came back to me this week when the death of Freddie Gray triggered days of peaceful protests that splintered into something uglier on Saturday, and anti-police violence erupted on Monday. But those weren’t the only moments from the past that seemed worth thinking about. The looting and arson led to comparisons to the unrest that followed the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—and, as an assistant professor of history at the University of Baltimore who has studied Baltimore in 1968, I can see a number of similarities. After several days of peaceful commemoration of Dr. King’s death, disenfranchised youth instigated disturbances in fifteen neighborhood commercial districts. Curfews were imposed, just as they were in Baltimore this week, and hundreds of citizens were eventually swept into custody. During both of the crises, members of the clergy of all faiths walked the streets in attempts to restore order.

But the real link between the two moments, 1968 and today, runs deeper than that. It’s not about the appearance of similarity, but rather the causes and effects.

As UB discovered in a community-based, multi-disciplinary examination of the riots 40 years later, the causes and consequences of urban unrest are complex and multifaceted. As part of our project, our diverse student body interviewed their friends and family, and we heard stories that illustrated deep systemic trends that led to generations of anger and frustration: practices in the private sector like residential covenants that forbade sales to black and Jewish buyers, federal policies like redlining that discouraged bank loans to poor and aging neighborhoods, urban renewal policies that used federal funds to build highways that cut neighborhoods off from the rest of Baltimore; limited job opportunities as Baltimore’s blue-collar jobs began to evaporate. All of those forces had been at work long before Dr. King’s assassination, and, as we see violence along the same streets almost five decades later, Baltimoreans still feel their effects today.

We also heard stories about businesses that were destroyed after families had poured years of effort and capital into them. In 1968 the Pats family lost its pharmacy on West North Avenue, just a few blocks from the CVS that burned this Monday evening. Their business was looted, then their entire block was burned, including their apartment. Their neighbors, who lost their jewelry store, had been relocated to Baltimore after surviving the Holocaust. Baltimore’s retail sector has still not recovered in many areas of the city. A number of neighborhoods have been declared food deserts, and no department store exists within the city limits. When a Target arrived at Mondawmin Mall and hired city residents, Baltimoreans welcomed it. But on Monday night we watched with dismay as looters ran out of Mondawmin, their arms full of merchandise.

In 1968, the governor of Maryland called out the National Guard, just as Governor Larry Hogan did on Monday night, and soon tanks patrolled the city streets. The unrest quieted, and by the end of the week the Orioles held opening day on schedule.

Here’s where the stories diverge. Maryland’s then-governor, Spiro Agnew, rode the wake of Baltimore’s disturbances right into the White House, using his tough-on-crime reputation to become Richard Nixon’s vice-presidential running mate. It is too simplistic to say that the policing approach Agnew advocated led directly to the kind of practices that killed Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. We cannot exclude from the list of causes Nixon’s War on Drugs, the crack epidemic of the 1980s and ‘90s, the growth of the prison-industrial complex, and the continuing hemorrhaging of blue-collar jobs from America’s aging industrial cities—but the reaction to the urban riots of the 1960s certainly started us down this path.

The similarities can stop. Knowledge of the aftermath of 1968 can help prevent its repetition. In the early 1970s law and order policing reinforced divisions around race, class, and geography in an attempt to lock up the problems instead of addressing them. We can learn from those mistakes. On Tuesday morning the NAACP announced that they would open a satellite office in Sandtown-Winchester, Freddie Gray’s neighborhood, to provide counsel to residents on a host of legal issues, including police misconduct. An external oversight board to monitor reports of police violence would serve as a powerful partner in this effort. Out on the streets on Tuesday morning, Baltimoreans worked together to clean up the debris from the night. I hope that as we work we will find a chance to tell each other our stories, and that this time we will listen.

The Long ViewHistorians explain how the past informs the present

Elizabeth M. Nix is a professor of legal, ethical and historical studies at the University of Baltimore, and co-editor with Jessica Elfenbein and Thomas Hollowak of Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth in An American City.

 

TIME Civil Rights

What Martin Luther King Jr Really Thought About Riots

Martin Luther King Jr. marching in Vietnam protest parade.
New York Daily News Archive / Getty Images Martin Luther King Jr. marching in a Vietnam protest parade in New York City in 1967

Unrest in Baltimore has an old MLK quote back in the news

As the city of Baltimore is shaken by riots in the wake of peaceful protests over the death of Freddie Gray, observers have had cause to reflect on the relationship between nonviolent and violent demonstration. In particular, one quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., has become a touchstone for those who seek to understand why those individuals have taken to the streets: “A riot,” King said, “is the language of the unheard.”

The quote is often traced to 1968, but it was actually a frequent rhetorical turn for King, appearing years earlier than that. In 1966, for example, in a Sept. 27 interview, King was questioned by CBS’ Mike Wallace about the “increasingly vocal minority” who disagreed with his devotion to non-violence as a tactic. In that interview, King admitted there was such a minority, though he said that surveys had shown most black Americans were on his side. “And I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro,” King said. “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”

At the time, a season of unrest was fresh in their memories. Stokely Carmichael had become chair of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee that year, and helped introduce the phrase “black power” into the nation’s lexicon. As TIME pointed out in a story that July, the phrase itself was probably about a decade old at that time, and was not inherently anti-white, but had the potential to “go sour in that way.” King was, from the beginning, a strong voice against the use of the phrase. While it was necessary for African-Americans to gain power, he believed, the impression that the power wouldn’t be shared was a dangerous one.

King’s conviction, however, did not stop the influence of those who championed riots as a tactic. The following year, in delivering his “The Other America” speech at Stanford University, King returned to his idea about what goes unheard:

…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

King’s point, though subtle, is clear. He does not support violent tactics, including riots, but he argues that the way to stop citizens from rioting is to acknowledge and fix the conditions that they are rioting against. And in the larger context of that speech, he got a chance to explain how exactly that mending should occur. The Other America speech is, at its heart, a speech about economics. (That’s why it’s popular with Rand Paul.) The solutions included fair-housing legislation, a federal law ensuring fair access to justice—about 50 civil rights workers had been killed in Mississippi since 1963 and there had been not a single conviction, he noted—and the institution of a national guaranteed annual income, which could be paid for by ending the war in Vietnam.

King also makes the point that those who talk about riots being counterproductive because they caused white backlash are missing the whole picture. “It may well be that shouts of Black Power and riots in Watts and the Harlems and the other areas, are the consequences of the white backlash rather than the cause of them,” he said. Even as major steps forward were taken, steps backward—the backlash, often harder to pin down—were constantly on the horizon. Desegregation was the law of the land and the Civil Rights Act had been passed, but economic inequality and racism were alive and well. The result was, he posited, despair. Despair is linked to anger, and thus to riots.

King ended the speech on a note of hope and faith, not just for justice but also for achieving it in a way that was nonviolent and intersectional.

A few months later, in April of 1968, King was assassinated. Some citizens in cities across the country reacted with what TIME called a “shock wave of looting, arson and outrage.”

Those cities included Baltimore.

TIME conflict

Read the Letter That Changed the Way Americans Saw the Vietnam War

American "Huey" helicopters during My Lai massacre
Ronald L. Haeberle—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty American military helicopters in flight during the My Lai massacre on Mar. 16, 1968 in My Lai, South Vietnam

The My Lai Massacre took place on Mar. 16, 1968

It was late April of 1968 when Ronald Ridenhour “first heard of ‘Pinkville’ and what had allegedly happened there.”

Thus began the letter that he sent to several government officials, including President Richard Nixon, in March, 1969. What followed was an account of the March 16, 1968, massacre at My Lai. “Ridenhour did not witness the incident himself, but he kept hearing about it from friends who were there,” TIME, which misidentified him as “Richard,” recounted after the news became public. “He was at first disbelieving, then deeply disturbed.”

That letter would soon change the way American citizens thought and talked about the war in Vietnam. This is how Ridenhour described what had happened:

One village area was particularly troublesome and seemed to be infested with booby traps and enemy soldiers. It was located about six miles northeast of Quang Nh,ai city at approximate coordinates B.S. 728795. It was a notorious area and the men of Task Force Barker had a special name I for it: they called it “Pinkville.” One morning in the latter part of March, Task Force Barker moved out from its firebase headed for “Pinkville.” Its mission: destroy the trouble spot and all of its inhabitants.

When “Butch” told me this I didn’t quite believe that what he was telling me was true, but he assured me that it was and went on to describe what had happened. The other two companies that made up the task force cordoned off the village so that “Charlie” Company could move through to destroy the structures and kill the inhabitants. Any villagers who ran from Charlie Company were stopped by the encircling companies. I asked “Butch” several times if all the people were killed. He said that he thought they were men, women and children. He recalled seeing a small boy, about three or four years old, standing by the trail with a gunshot wound in one arm. The boy was clutching his wounded arm with his other hand, while blood trickled between his fingers. He was staring around himself in shock and disbelief at what he saw. “He just stood there with big eyes staring around like he didn’t understand; he didn’t believe what was happening. Then the captain’s RTO (radio operator) put a burst of 16 (M-16 rifle) fire into him.” It was so bad, Gruver said, that one of the men in his squad shot himself in the foot in order to be medivaced out of the area so that he would not have to participate in the slaughter. Although he had not seen it, Gruver had been told by people he considered trustworthy that one of the company’s officers, 2nd Lieutenant Kally (this spelling may be incorrect) had rounded up several groups of villagers (each group consisting of a minimum of 20 persons of both sexes and all ages). According to the story, Kally then machine-gunned each group. Gruver estimated that the population of the village had been 300 to 400 people and that very few, if any, escaped.

After hearing this account I couldn’t quite accept it. Somehow I just couldn’t believe that not only had so many young American men participated in such an act of barbarism, but that their officers had ordered it.

The full letter, which is widely available these days, ran to about 2,000 words worth of evidence that “something very black indeed” had happened. Further publicity came in the form of an investigation by reporter Seymour Hersh — which originally ran in a Washington news service after LIFE magazine rejected it.

In the fall of 1969, one of the leaders of the platoon implicated in the massacre — his name was actually spelled Calley — was charged with murdering civilians; other charges against other soldiers and officers followed. Comparisons to the Nuremberg Trials were many, especially as many of the soldiers there argued that they had just been following orders. There were several legal difficulties in pursuing a lawsuit against them, both logistical and sentimental, as TIME polls found that many Americans either did not believe Ridenhour’s account or thought that such killing was a natural result of war.

Several trials did move forward, however. In 1971, Calley was found guilty. (Other trials for those present continued, but Calley was the only one convicted.) The sentencing did not end My Lai’s reverberations. At a protest in New York, future Secretary of State John Kerry read this statement: “We are all of us in this country guilty for having allowed the war to go on. We only want this country to realize that it cannot try a Calley for something which generals and Presidents and our way of life encouraged him to do. And if you try him, then at the same time you must try all those generals and Presidents and soldiers who have part of the responsibility. You must in fact try this country.” The verdict split the U.S. between those who thought that punishments for the massacre should instead go all the way up to the Commander-in-Chief, and those who thought that condemning soldiers for killing was a travesty in its own right.

“The crisis of conscience caused by the Calley affair is a graver phenomenon than the horror following the assassination of President Kennedy,” TIME opined. “Historically, it is far more crucial.”

Though the nation was divided at the time, history has come out fairly firmly on one side: in 1998, three men who turned their weapons on fellow soldiers instead of My Lai residents were honored in Washington — shortly before Ridenhour died at 52 of a heart attack — and in 2009 Calley apologized for his role in what happened. “There is not a day that goes by,” he said, “that I do not feel remorse.”

Read TIME’s 1969 issue about the fallout from My Lai: The Massacre: Where Does the Guilt Lie?

See how LIFE reported on My Lai: American Atrocity

TIME India

Thousands Set to Attend March to Protest Rape of Elderly Nun in India

The 74-year-old nun was sexually assaulted by six attackers who also ransacked the convent where she worked

Thousands of Indians are expected to take to the streets of the eastern city of Kolkata on Monday to protest the rape of an elderly nun that took place over the weekend.

Thomas D’Souza, the city’s Archbishop, condemned the “inhuman act” in a statement, according to the BBC. “It has brought a lot of shame and pain to all concerned,” he said.

The 74-year-old nun, who was sexually assaulted by six attackers after they burgled and vandalized her convent, is currently in a stable condition at a local hospital. Ten men have been arrested in connection with the incident, although none of them resemble the alleged assailants who were caught on CCTV cameras.

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state of West Bengal, where Kolkata is situated, vowed quick and severe consequences for the perpetrators when they are found. The state police’s special investigative branch has reportedly taken over the investigation.

[BBC]

TIME Civil Rights

5 of the Most Influential Protests in History

Kapadwamj, India, 6th May, 1930, Gandhi volunteers in camp at Kapadwanj watching members of their band making salt following the civil disobedience riots and demonstrations demanding the boycotting of British goods and the arrest of leader Mahatma Gandhi
Popperfoto—Getty Images Protestors watching members of their band making salt following the civil disobedience riots and demonstrations demanding the boycotting of British goods and the arrest of leader Mahatma Gandhi in Kapadwamj, India on May 6, 1930.

On the 85th anniversary of Gandhi’s Salt March, a look back at some of the world’s most important acts of defiance

When Mohandas Gandhi began his famous Salt March 85 years ago today, on Mar. 12, 1930, he couldn’t have known the influence it would wield on the history of India and the world. Not only did it play a major role in India’s eventual freedom from British rule, but it also went on to inspire future protestors to incredible acts of civil disobedience.

In honor of the anniversary, we’ve rounded up five major protests that served as inspiration for future protestors, from ancient times to the modern day.

1. Gandhi’s Salt March

Under British rule, Indians were prohibited from collecting or selling salt—Britain had a monopoly on that staple product, and taxed it heavily. Gandhi assembled his supporters in 1930 to march 240 mi. from his ashram to the Arabian Sea to collect salt from the ocean. The crowd snowballed along the way; more than 60,000 Indians were arrested for breaking the salt law. It was an ideal method of protest, because collecting salt was a completely non-violent activity and involved a commodity that was truly important to Indians. The protest continued until Gandhi was granted bargaining rights at a negotiation in London. India didn’t see freedom until 1947, but the salt satyagraha (his brand of civil disobedience) established Gandhi as a force to be reckoned with and set a powerful precedent for future nonviolent protestors, including Martin Luther King Jr.

Read TIME’s original 1930 cover story about the Salt March, here in the TIME Vault: Pinch of Salt

2. The March on Washington

By 1963, African Americans had been freed from slavery for a century yet continued to live lives burdened by inequality in every realm of society. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was intended to push lawmakers to pass legislation that address these inequalities, and its organizers were so successful that more than 200,000 supporters turned out for the action—double their estimate. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered perhaps the most famous speech in American history, his “I Have a Dream” address, at the base of the Lincoln Memorial, and the leaders met with President Kennedy afterwards to discuss their goals. The march was credited with helping build support to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and its messages of the hard work to build equality are echoed today from the Ferguson protests to President Obama’s recent speech in Selma, Ala.

3. Lysistrata

Though Aristophane’s comedy was fictional, it held real-life lessons for future generations: In the 5th-century-BC play, the protagonist organizes Greek women to agree not to have sex with their husbands and lovers until they can forge peace and end the Peloponnesian War. Silly as the concept may sound, sex strikes have been used as peacekeeping measures in modern societies from Colombia to the Philippines. Perhaps most notably, women in Liberia included a sex strike in their Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace that successfully ended the 13-year Second Liberian Civil War—and got a female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, elected. Sirleaf and organizer Leymah Gbowee won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work.

4. The Self-Immolation of Thich Quang Duc

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk did not invent the act of burning oneself to death, but his self-immolation on the street in Saigon in 1963 to protest the treatment of Buddhists in South Vietnam shocked the world and created a horrific new genre of political protest. Like many forms of suicide, self-immolation proved contagious: other Vietnamese monks followed suit, as did an American in Washington, D.C. to protest the war. Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi is credited with sparking the Arab Spring uprising in 2010 with his self-immolation to protest his treatment by the oppressive government, and more than 100 Tibetans have self-immolated in the last five years in protest of Chinese rule.

5. Take Back the Night

Since the 1970s, events under the Take Back the Night umbrella have protested violence against women in the form of marches and rallies around the world, often in direct response to specific murders of women. The movement set a precedent for future actions concerned with female safety and sexuality, like SlutWalk, a march that began in 2011 to oppose a statement by a Toronto Police Constable that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” More recently, Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz has protested her university’s decision to allow her alleged rapist to remain on campus with her project “Carry that Weight,” in which she hauls her dorm mattress everywhere she goes.

Read TIME’s definitive ranking of the top 10 most influential protests of all time here.

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