OAKLAND — The use of violence as a means to gain freedom or to protect a citizenship never fulfills its promises to humanity, the Rev. James Lawson said.

“World War I was a call for democracy, but spread the seeds for the second war,” he said. “Police killing unarmed people in the streets. Does it decrease crime? Convince people we are a stable society? No. Violence is ineffective. It doesn’t provide a stable village: it creates chaos.”

Borrowing from the title of a book by Martin Luther King Jr., the longtime nonviolent activist asked, “Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?” as he spoke Saturday at the Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In the 1960s as a Vanderbilt University Divinity School student, Lawson was expelled for his leadership in the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins. The Pennsylvania native took that experience as impetus to join America’s oldest pacifist organization — the Fellowship of Reconciliation — serve 14 months in prison as a conscientious objector of the Korean War, travel to India as a Methodist missionary to study Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence, and train and exchange ideas on nonviolent tactics with leaders of the civil rights movement.

The James Lawson Institute studies past and contemporary social justice movements from a strategic perspective and supports ongoing activism in conjunction with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict through a resource library, educational initiatives and more.

“There isn’t a (civil rights) meeting, conference or conversation I have where his name isn’t mentioned,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.

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