Hilliard urges audience to broaden definition of violence

When Robert M. Mayberry, chair of the School of Public Health's annual Martin Luther King Forum, asked Asa Hilliard to speak on the topic of violence, Hilliard responded, "My comments are not necessarily mainstream."

Hilliard, E. Callawawy Professor of Urban Education at Georgia State University, proved that point on Jan. 17, as the keynote speaker at a forum co-sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Emory MLK Committee. Hilliard drew on ancient Egyptian wisdom literature and broadened the definition of violence beyond "the man spread eagle against the car."

"Americans are fascinated with terror," said Hilliard. He said that is evident in television, movies, videos, toys and recreation. "I was watching TV with my grandchildren the other night," he said, "and we played, `Find the nonviolent programming.'

Hilliard argued against the genetic component of violence and encouraged the audience to look at the context of what causes violence. "We have created a prison industrial complex," he said, "that has exceeded 1 million incarcerated men. We assume these men have a `violent gene,' but we don't look at the conditions that create violence." Hilliard outlined many of those conditions, including bank red-lining (not financing property in certain neighborhoods), second mortgage swindles, toxic dumping and what he termed "academic violence," specifically referring to the recent book, The Bell Curve. He pointed out the last two chapters of that book, in which Hilliard said the authors "attack images of Africans and African Americans." He argued against many of the public policy statements made by the authors, which he said sound like some of the recently-touted solutions to social problems.

"We have drifted to the point where the primary value is greed and materialism," Hilliard said. "A system based on greed is a system which spawns violence."

"The solution to violence must go beyond a high tech penal system," Hilliard argued. "The remedy for violence is normal nurturing for everyone in society. When kids in the city tonight can't find a place to go after school to play basketball, to sit and study with supervision, they go out and invent their own nurturing . . . it might be good to go back and consider justice as an antidote for violence."

Hilliard ended his speech by invoking one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches, "Why I am Against the War in Vietnam," when King called America "the most violent country in the world" and called for a desegregated definition of violence.

- Nancy M. Spitler