Dr. King was assassinated 50 years ago. Murdered as he confronted systemic injustice fueled by racism. His civil rights advocacy led to the end of legal segregation and enforced voter suppression. What hasn’t changed is the persistence of racism.
On March 18th Stephon Clark was shot by police in his grandparents backyard in Sacramento. Police were called to the neighborhood because of reports of a man breaking car windows. Two officers saw Stephon and fired 22 shots, eight hitting and killing him. They thought he had a gun. What he actually had in his hand was a cell phone. Initial autopsy reports that the first six shots struck Stephon in the back. https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/3/21/17149092/stephon-clark-police-shooting-sacramento
The shooting is currently under review. If this is like most police shootings, no charges will be filed against the officers. What this highlights is a racial bias in the so-called judicial system, against people of color, particularly against young men. People of color make up a disproportionate percent of the prison population. People of color serve longer prison terms for the same offense as compared to a white person.
This was true in Dr. King’s day. It’s true now.
Racism is also at work in our current political climate. Scratch below the surface of the anti-immigrant rhetoric of President Trump and Jeff Sessions and you’ll find racism. In Mr. Trump’s world view, Mexicans are ‘murderers, rapists and drug dealers’. In this world view we need to militarize our border. We need to fear ‘the other’. In almost every case ‘the other’ is a person of color.
Dr. King was martyred because he stood over against the fear and hatred of his time. He was demonized by his opponents. The Black Lives Matter movement seeks to continue Dr. King’s principles. They too are demonized by their opponents.
So why do we talk about Dr. King’s dream 5o years later after his death? Why didn’t the dream die with him?
Simply put, because he offers truth. The truth that ‘hate is to great a price to pay’. The truth that ‘only selfless love can make an enemy into a friend’.
Racism is a shape shifter. It takes many forms.
Yet it has no place in a healthy society. No place in a healthy person.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a man guided by a source of wisdom that is eternal. That comes from the very presence of God.
On one occasion King received word that his home in Montgomery had been bombed. After reassuring himself about the safety of his wife and baby he had to confront the rage of a crowd bent on retaliation. Dr. King said:
We cannot solve this problem of racism through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.”…We must love our white brothers, our enemies, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we loved them…We must meet hate with love.’
Martin King’s love was not passive. It organized. It confronted. It persevered in the face of injustice. His message offered a new way of being.
Dr. King didn’t believe in ‘us’ and them’. For Martin there was only ‘us’. May it be so.