COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Columbus police misquoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in decals on a new community outreach cruiser, according to researchers who study the civil rights icon.
The Columbus Division of Police released a video on Feb. 1 — the start of Black History Month — of the newly decorated squad car on social media. Police said the car, named “History 1,” is intended to “celebrate the achievements of African Americans & recognize their roles in our history.”
An overwhelming amount of backlash to the video followed on Twitter. Users referenced recent cases, including the deadly police shooting of Donovan Lewis and a Black CPD officer’s racial discrimination lawsuit, in which she was awarded only $2.
One portion of the cruiser also features a quote attributed to King: “Be the peace you wish to see in the world.” It has also appeared in other inspirational internet quote graphics with his likeness as well. However, the quote online and on CPD’s car apparently has no tie back to the man who supposedly said it, the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University told WCMH.
“I am unable to confirm that King authored the specific quotation: ‘Be the peace you wish to see in the world,’” said Meghan Weaver, research assistant for the institute.
Stanford professor and founder of the MLK Jr. Insitute, Clayborne Carson, explained further. He told VICE News it was “obviously impossible to disprove the claim that he once said those words,” but asserted the institute’s debunking with years of research.
“The King Papers Project that I directed for more than 3 decades didn’t find evidence that MLKJ ever said this,” Carson said.
WCMH also reached out to the King Center — a historical society and nonprofit founded by King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, in Georgia — for a second check of the quote. However, it had not returned researchers’ findings as of Tuesday morning.
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A spokesperson for Columbus police did not address the King misquote when asked for comment, but they did explain that the Black History Month decals would be temporary.
“Over the past several months, this same cruiser has been wrapped for LGBTQ Pride month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Veteran’s Day, and the holiday season – with plans to recognize several upcoming holidays and campaigns in 2023. This cruiser is already owned by the City and was decommissioned from use as a patrol vehicle with the sole purpose of being used at community events throughout Columbus. The cruiser is designed and decorated in-house each month, with the only expense being the cost of the decals.”Columbus Division of Police
Despite the backlash online, the spokesman added that the feedback locally has been more positive.
“In the days after unveiling ‘History 1,’ we have already been approached by members of the community to have this cruiser be part of several upcoming Black History Month events.”Columbus Division of Police