A video that is more than a year old was going viral on Tuesday in an apparent attempt from political rivals to use the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s good name to smear the president as he pushes to secure voting rights in the face of bipartisan opposition.
The video was essentially the briefest of expertly edited snippets to only show the 10 seconds that President Joe Biden compared Kings’ assassination to the police murder of George Floyd. Biden was speaking at an economic reopening roundtable in Philadelphia nearly one month after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin used his knee to apply deadly pressure to Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. That was when and where the president was shown saying that King’s murder lacked the same global effects that Floyd’s did.
“Even Dr. King’s assassination did not have the worldwide impact that George Floyd’s death did,” Biden claimed at the time.
The backlash was swift from right-wing conservatives looking to politically capitalize on the clip, even though the comments were made in June 2020.
But, as always, context is key.
The fuller clip of Biden’s comments show that the president was speaking about the effect that cellphone cameras have had on bringing prompt attention to high-profile killings and how such footage can reach the farthest corners of the world in a moment’s notice as opposed to how news cables about King’s assassination took much longer to reach those same locations.
“It’s just like television changed the Civil Rights movement for the better when they saw Bull Connor and his dogs ripping the clothes off of elderly black women going to church and firehoses ripping the skin off of young kids,” Biden also said following the above quote that was strategically singled out in a likely effort to stoke politically divisive flames.
Biden later added: “What happened to George Floyd — now you got how many people around the country, millions of cell phones. It’s changed the way everybody’s looking at this. Look at the millions of people marching around the world.”
Below is the brief, selective snippet alongside the fuller clip with context from the president.
If anyone was guilty of trying to reduce the impact of King’s death, it would be a number of Republicans who have disingenuously used the civil rights icon’s name in vain as a way to advance partisan politics.
King’s name has increasingly been brought up in the context of voting rights, which Senate Republicans have refused to allow to advance to even the debate stage on Capitol Hill.
It was in that context that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — the person widely recognized as organizing Senate Republicans against Biden’s domestic agenda, including voting rights and police reform — said Monday (not more than a year ago) that King’s “message echoes as powerfully” now as it did when he was assassinated.
McConnell added that King’s “legacy inspires us to celebrate and keep building upon the remarkable progress our great nation has made toward becoming a more perfect union.”
King, of course, was a champion of voting rights and risked his life on multiple occasions in order to secure ballot access for Black people. His family on Monday led a march in the nation’s capital and renewed calls for the Senate to change the filibuster rule that would allow voting rights legislation to advance.
But even if rule for the filibuster — criticized as a “racist” relic of Jim Crow — is changed, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have said they would not vote to advance the legislation, suggesting it’s a matter of when and not if a pair of Democratic voting rights bills are doomed to fail.
Again: Context matters.