The Power of Reasonable Action

by Deborah Fagan Carpenter

 protest photo

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


After the appalling, but history making events of the last few weeks, it seemed disrespectful to publish one of our typical posts today. In Dallas, decent, dedicated police officers were brutally gunned down during a peaceful demonstration, by a sniper who had no connection to the protest. In other cities innocent black men were callously and inhumanely killed at the hands of policemen who were inadequately trained, fearful, or racially biased. African-Americans and law enforcement officers alike, are full of fear, as well as justified anger, and without a doubt, there are rational and irrational participants on both sides. Events Sunday night in Memphis, Tennessee however, offered some hope for a reasonable dialog to open—at least in this city—in order to address the ever growing volatile relationship between the African-American and law enforcement communities, and to contain the expanding gulf between the two.

On July 10, in the city in which the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was tragically ended, the leader who fostered a non-violent approach to civil rights change would have been gratified by the peaceful protest that was led by proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement. An unusually mild summer night provided the backdrop for a gathering of over 1,000 protesters—both African-American and Caucasian—who completely stopped traffic in both directions on the Memphis/Arkansas I-40 bridge. The goal of the demonstration was to invoke a conversation among the community, law enforcement, civic leaders, and BLM advocates so that that grievances on all fronts could be aired. Additionally, they wanted to make the public aware that the Black Lives Matter slogan doesn’t mean that black lives matter more than anyone else’s, but rather that they matter equally as much.

Similar events took place in many cities around the country, but the Memphis protest was carried out in a manner that Dr. King would have applauded—with civility and dignity. Marchers weren’t trying to incite incidents, and to their credit, neither was the police presence. After several hours, the protest ended on a stunning note when interim Police Director Mike Rallings, joined by other policemen, locked arms with protestors, and together walked off of the bridge.


“A basic fact that characterizes nonviolence is that it does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, but to win his friendship and understanding.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


On social media and news station’s web sites, the racial vitriol surrounding the event was palpable, but on the bridge, the protesters and the police engaged in heated, but rational arguments regarding violence and lack of accountability. A legitimate objection from outside observers about the event was the inability of drivers in emergency situations to get help, but the couple of vehicles with medical emergencies were allowed to proceed through the protest crowd unimpeded.

Other antagonists cried, “That’s not civil disobedience, that’s lawbreaking!” Well yes, the very definition of civil disobedience is a symbolic or ritualistic violation of the law. Nelson Mandela regularly engaged in civil disobedience and peaceful protests against the South African policy of apartheid, and a rather notable example occurred in our own country when the Sons of Liberty dumped a confiscated shipment of the East India Company’s tea into the Boston Harbour. Civil disobedience is a way that ordinary citizens often bring about necessary change.

The striking example of non-violent demonstration led by the Memphis members of the Black Lives Matter movement and the cool-headed actions of the Memphis police force has, at least for the immediate future, initiated a conversation between the groups and pertinent community leaders. Both sides are poised—to make an effort, at least—to see through the other’s eyes.


“The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, while the aftermath of the violence is tragic bitterness.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.





Bridge photo is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to



13 thoughts on “The Power of Reasonable Action

  1. Rachel Farmer

    Thank you, Deborah, for this sensitive and we’ll thought out essay. Also, I wish you a speedy recovery.

  2. Joe Goodell

    Reminds me of Lady Justice, scales balanced, dispensing justice objectively and fairly. A well thought through essay, Deborah.

  3. Becky Kelly

    I lived in Memphis for 20 years. Even after moving away five years ago, I have always been so proud to be a Memphian. But, never more so than today. Thank you, Deborah, for putting my pride into words.

    1. Thanks to you, Becky, for reading Porchscene.

  4. Deborah, this is what Porch Scene is all about! Well said,

    1. Thank you Tom. I want us to continue to present all sides of this place we call home.

  5. Lisa Trenthem

    very well done!

    1. Thank you, Lisa for continuing to read the posts!

  6. jimmy crosthwait

    Bravo! Deborah,,, You reminded me of an old Chinese proverb. “Too little dissatisfaction means no desire for change. Too much dissatisfaction means no ability to change.” I think what occurred in Memphis July 10th struck a unique balance… as did your article.

    1. Thank you, Jimmy. I think it was a pretty remarkable event!

  7. Beautifully lived. Beautifully written.
    Deeds and Words like these give us hope.
    Two thumbs up!!

    1. Thank you Randall. The events on that bridge Sunday did indeed offer some hope for us all to look at the “gray” side of this serious issue.

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