Looks Like Cops Put a Fake MLK Quote on a Police Cruiser for Black History Month

The director of The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University said “we have no record of the maxim.”

The police department in Columbus, Ohio is celebrating Black History Month with a themed cop car, which uses a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Be the peace you wish to see in the world.” 

Just one of the many problems with this move is that it appears MLK never said that.

The Columbus Division of Police unveiled the car it dubbed “History 1” Wednesday, saying in a social media post that the car will “celebrate the achievements of African Americans & recognize their roles in our history.” The video announcing the car plays excerpts from King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  frequently spoke about nonviolence and his goal of making a more peaceful and just society and world. But experts told VICE News that they could find no evidence of King ever having said the quote that’s now printed on the window of a cop car.

Columbus Division of Police

Columbus Division of Police

The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University compiled a list of quotes spoken by King which reference peace, but the quote Columbus used is not on it. Lerone Martin, the Institute’s director and associate professor of religious studies at Stanford, told VICE News in an email Friday that “we have no record of the maxim” that Columbus put on its police car.

“I haven’t found any traces, and it doesn’t appear in the addresses and writings I know best,” Earl Schwartz, an associate professor of religion at Hamline University who has written on King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” told VICE News in an email. 

And Clayborne Carson, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor, Emeritus at Stanford and the founding director of the King Institute, told VICE News that it was “obviously impossible to disprove the claim that he once said those words,” but that “the King Papers Project that I directed for more than 3 decades didn’t find evidence that MLKJ ever said this.”


A similar quote, “be the change you wish to see in the world,” has been falsely attributed to Indian revolutionary leader Mahatma Gandhi. MLK, like Gandhi and other historical figures such as Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin, is often mistakenly cited often as the source for things he didn’t actually say. 

A spokesperson for the Columbus Division of Police told VICE News in an email Friday that the city didn’t commission a new cop car, but rather one has been “decommissioned for use” as a patrol car. The car is painted over and over again to celebrate different holidays and awareness campaigns, the spokesperson said. 

“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,” the spokesperson said. The spokesperson added that “we have already been approached by members of the community to have this cruiser be part of several upcoming Black History Month events.”


The spokesperson did not acknowledge the apparent misquote of MLK.

A Google search shows the unsourced “peace” quote frequently attributed to King by quotation aggregation websites, and has found its way into everything from opinion columns to websites for companies that sell gardening equipment. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who serves as the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta where King himself served as co-pastor with his father, also tweeted the quote from his Senate account in October 2022. 

Warnock’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News.

“To be sure, King did believe that means and ends had to be commensurate,” Martin told VICE News. “That is, he believed the only way to achieve peace was to use peaceful and non-violent means.”

Like a similar move in Miami, Columbus’s decision to use a cop car to honor Black History Month drew intense backlash. “It’s not even a performance at this point,” the Abortion Fund of Ohio said in a tweet noting that the quote was falsely attributed to King. 


“WHY IS THIS A THING?????” journalist Jemele Hill tweeted.

More than half of all of the Columbus police department’s recorded use of force incidents between 2017 and 2019 were against Black people, even though Black residents make up only a third of the city’s population, the Columbus Dispatch reported in 2021

Since 2015, Columbus police have shot and killed 36 people, 25 of them Black, according to the Washington Post’s police shootings database. In August 2022, Columbus police officer Ricky Anderson shot and killed 20-year-old Donovan Lewis, who was unarmed; Columbus police said they found a vape pen on Lewis, but no weapons. 

The state completed an investigation in December, and two special prosecutors were named to present evidence to a grand jury. Anderson was put on paid leave in September but has not been fired. 


On Wednesday—the same day Columbus police unveiled the car—Lewis’ mother called for the cop who killed her son to be arrested and charged, referencing the firing of five Memphis cops who’ve since been charged with the murder of Tyre Nichols. “If it can be done in a swift manner anywhere, it can be done swiftly here,” she said at a press conference. 

On Sunday, Columbus police shot an unidentified man who fled during a traffic stop, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The man is reportedly in stable condition.

Martin noted in an email to VICE News that King did address police violence in the same March on Washington speech Columbus police pulled from in their video unveiling the car.

“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied’?” King said. “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

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