Fifty-two years after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., abolitionist and educator Mariame Kaba lauded students involved in Northwestern Community Not Cops for continuing his work and urged the University to heed the group’s demands.

“For those currently organizing on campus under the banner of NU Community Not Cops, you are doing the essential work of this time [by] taking up King’s struggle in calling for the defunding and abolition of campus policing,” Kaba said.

Kaba delivered the keynote address for Northwestern’s Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Week on Wednesday night and said that many campus police forces began not to protect students but rather to suppress student uprisings following King’s assassination.

“[Police] have become enforcers of gentrification, patrolers of the communities that surround universities and harassers of marginalized groups of students who have gotten onto campus since the death of King,” Kaba said.

She encouraged students to not only get involved with mutual aid but also to educate themselves to avoid inadvertently supporting police.

“We can’t settle for tinkering around the edges or for reforms that actually strengthen policing, prisons and surveillance. We can’t advance reforms that produce more violence. We can’t settle for individual indictments that are mostly symbolic,” Kaba said. “We have to restructure the ways that we interact with each other in order to make prisons and the police obsolete.”

Telling the story of when police arrested King for reportedly driving five miles above the speed limit, Kaba explained that this 1956 arrest – the first of 29 throughout King’s civil rights career – was not as simple as a traffic stop. Instead, it was the police’s response to King’s involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. She tied this argument to the prison industrial complex and how King’s activism remains relevant to modern-day abolitionists fighting police violence.

“If I considered myself to be an anti-violence organizer, then I couldn’t very well support the existence of prisons and policing,” Kaba said. “Violence is an inherent part of the police and policing. The police monopoly on the use of force is not tangential or incidental.”

Kaba argued that if King were alive today, he would likely share these views. She cited his involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s rideshare system as a form of mutual aid, and she quoted a passage from King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in which he said that people could not rest while Black Americans faced “the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

“This is the King who was assassinated, the revolutionary and not the dreamer,” Kaba said. “The truth is that the ‘Dream’ speech was as much about the nightmares inflicted on Black people as about the aspirational goal of Black freedom.”

*Article Thumbnail courtesy of Northwestern University MLK Dream Week