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Tag: Quotes

This quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

What might Dr. King say to us today?

In the wake of the holiday that honors him, I’ve been wondering “what might Dr. King say to us today?” The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a man whom many of us consider a moral beacon for the ages. His life ended more than fifty years ago, but we value moral beacons because their guidance transcends their own times.

We certainly could use a moral beacon right now. We’ve just lived through a year of historic tumult and upheaval. The pandemic has disrupted our lives on every imaginable level. We lived through a long summer of mass popular demonstrations against systemic racism. An incredibly divisive political season has so far crescendoed (at the time of this writing) into the spectacle of a thank-God-failed insurrection/coup d’état.

What might Dr. King say about all of this? It’s impossible (unless you believe in séances) to ask him directly. But some of the things he wrote and said point us toward his probable reading of some of today’s major recent events. If I tried to address all of today’s issues with his thoughts, this would be a very long post. Instead, I’ll focus on two top headlines of today.

What might Dr. King say about the insurrection at the Capitol?

Dr. King loved his country. Even though he opposed white supremacists in positions of power, he still could write, “the goal of America is freedom.” In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963) he cited “the American dream,” and the goal of “bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”

The white supremacist mob that stormed the Capitol would have looked all too familiar to him. Their (literal and spiritual) parents and grandparents created the Jim Crow South where he focused his resistance work. Of their racist laws, he wrote, “All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”

As seen from directly above, an angry crowd of Trump supporters beat a Capitol Police officer who has fallen on his face on the Capitol steps.
The insurrectionists attacked this police officer with a crutch, a night stick, fists, and assorted poles—including a pole attached to an American flag. (WUSA9)

He also would have condemned their violence. King decried “hate filled policemen [who] curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters,” but his whole life was devoted to nonviolence. He would have unequivocally decried assaults such as the one pictured above.

Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace,” he wrote. Moreover, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

What might Dr. King say about the impact of the pandemic?

I think he would have been most outraged by the stark, enduring, inequalities the pandemic laid bare. The scourge of poverty, and the systemic racism he sought to dismantle all his life, roared into vivid prominence when COVID-19 pervaded the nation.

This chart, based on data from the American Community Survey of county public health departments, shows that rates of infection were much higher for Latinos and Blacks in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Alameda Counties, and the death rate for Black people was almost double that of any other group. Latinos came in second.
This chart captures a snapshot of data from May 5, 2020 that demonstrates the uneven impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on different racial groups (Todd Trumbull/San Francisco Chronicle)

Unequal access to health care, environmental pollution in poor neighborhoods, and inadequate access to healthy nutrition in “food deserts” had already afflicted communities of color with higher rates of diseases and health conditions that made residents of these communities more vulnerable to the disease and its most virulent manifestations.

In this case, we don’t have to ask, “what might Dr. King say?” because we know he said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We know he advocated for “the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

In 2020, we outgassed a lot of platitudes about the value of “essential workers,” many of whom are Black, Latinx, or Asian. But although they can’t work remotely and therefore court death each day they go to work, they often still don’t have adequate health coverage, and they weren’t in the earliest cohort of vaccine recipients, even though they were supposed to be near the front of the line.

A hallmark of capitalist systems is tiers of access, a hierarchy of who gets how much, of what quality, and when. As King put it, capitalism “has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.” In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, he said, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”

What might Dr. King say about where we go from here?

I think he’s left us plenty of guidance on that question, too. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools,” he warned. He also said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight,” he wrote from the Birmingham jail.

A Navajo Nation food bank.
Native Americans of the Navajo Nation people, pick up supplies from a food bank. It was set up at the Navajo Nation town of Casamero Lake in New Mexico on May 20, 2020. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images and ABC News)

On a different occasion, he warned, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Let’s not be too late. After all, “The time is always right, to do what’s right.”

IMAGE and QUOTATIONS CREDITS:

IMAGES: Many thanks to WUSA 9, for the horrifying photo of the police officer being beaten by the insurrectionist mob at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. I’m grateful to graphic artist Todd Trumbull of the San Francisco Chronicle for the “Racial Disparities in COVID-19” chart from May 5, 2020. I also want to thank Mark Ralston of AFP via Getty Images and ABC News, for the May 20, 2020 photo of the relief station in the Navajo Nation. Many thanks also to Gecko & Fly, for the header image.

QUOTES: Many of these resources supplied overlapping quotes, while others offered new insights. For a deep dive into the wisdom and sayings of Dr. King, I appreciate Christian Animal Ethics, The African Studies Center of the University of Pennsylvania (complete text of Letter from a Birmingham Jail), Gecko & Fly, Food for the Hungry, In These Times, and Common Dreams.

Against the backdrop of the tweet from “Carmen Katz” that started the rumor that turned into “Pizzagate,” a couple wearing T-shirts emblazoned, “PIZZAGATE IS REAL” and the business sign of the hapless Comet Ping Pong pizza shop are superimposed in a Sean McCabe illustration for Rolling Stone magazine.

Freedom of Speech Part One

Speech isn’t free when it’s a crime

When it comes to freedom of speech, we have a lot of latitude. We’ve all heard someone say, “It’s a free country! I can say anything I want!” But is that right? Can you literally say anything? Last week I started a series of posts on the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The text of the First Amendment to the US Constitution reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Many thanks to Indivisible Door County, WI.

The section of the First Amendment relevant to today’s post says, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . .” That seems pretty straightforward, but there are wrinkles.

Protected speech has always had exceptions. Today I’d like to address the “criminal element.”

When speech is a crime

Let’s start with slander. Slanderers make false statements that defame and damage a person’s reputation. You’re not free to do that, because it’s just a wrong, unfair thing to do. But then come the questions: How can you prove it’s false? Is it still slander if your victim is famous?

Across the photos of two young men, headlines read, "Breaking News" and "Shocking Allegations Denied!"
Image courtesy of @CelebDirtyLaundry on Twitter.

What if you honestly thought it was true when you said it? If you’ve ever forwarded a shocking meme without checking to make sure its “facts” were accurate, you should fold up your righteous indignation, and stick it right back into the cabinet.

Related but different, perjury is a crime because it interferes with the rendering of justice. Doesn’t keep it from happening, but it’s not legal, either.

Perjury is the basest and meanest and most cowardly of crimes. What can it do? .Perjury can change the common air that we breathe into the axe of an executioner.
Perjury quote from Robert G. Ingersoll
Many thanks to Quotestats.

A particular kind of wrong

How about obscenity and child pornography? People immediately start arguing about “what is obscene?” “To whom?” “In what context?” The so-called “Miller test” defines three points by which to evaluate whether something is obscene, but it’s not perfect, either.

Child pornography, which is extremely destructive to its underage victims, is considered a sex crime—but people have tried to defend it as a First Amendment question.

No freedom for criminal conduct

This quote from Alan Greenspan says, “Corruption, embezzlement, fraud, these are all characteristics which exist everywhere. It is regrettably the way human nature functions, whether we like it or not. What successful economies do is to keep it at a minimum. No one has ever eliminated any of that stuff.”
Many thanks to AZ Quotes.

Speech integral to criminal conduct” is a broad category, it turns out. The formation of a more perfect union is never served by con artists swindling people, for instance. They have no First Amendment right to defraud someone.

Another prohibited category includes false advertising, which is a kind of swindling. There are a lot of people who think the “false advertising” test should include gaslighting in the political arena (“Pizzagate,” anyone?). So far, however drawing the line between opinion and falsehood or misleading representation has eluded many of us.

Against the backdrop of the tweet from “Carmen Katz” that started the rumor that turned into “Pizzagate,” a couple wearing T-shirts emblazoned, “PIZZAGATE IS REAL” and the business sign of the hapless Comet Ping Pong pizza shop are superimposed in a Sean McCabe illustration for Rolling Stone magazine.
Here’s an evocation of the “Pizzagate” fake news conspiracy (Thanks, Rolling Stone and illustrator Sean McCabe).

Inciting physical harm

Inciting others to commit violence is another kind of speech that’s not free, because it can lead to harm. For instance, inciting a mob to do violence can lead to people getting hurt or killed, property destroyed, etc.

Cars burn and streets are shrouded in smoke in the wake of a May, 2020 riot in Grand Rapids, MI, allegedly started by a woman who has now been charged.
The aftermath of a riot, allegedly incited 5/31/2020 by a Michigan woman, wasn’t pretty. (WMMT Channel 3).

Likewise, making false statements to set off panic (the infamous “falsely yelling ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater” scenario) is not protected. You can’t solicit someone to commit a crime (such as hiring a hit man to take out your inconvenient spouse).

Insidious falsehoods

Inconvenient though some might find it, the First Amendment won’t defend extortion or blackmail, either. Except, perhaps, when you’re a president extorting a foreign leader for political aid, and the Senate won’t impeach you?

Photos of U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky are superimposed over an image of the July 25, 2019 memorandum that documented what Trump called a “perfect phone call” in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate potential rival Joe Biden in return for Trump’s releasing Congressionally-allocated military aid that Ukraine badly needed.
Trump, Zelensky, and the 7/25/2019 memo documenting the “perfect call.” (illustration courtesy of Rogue Rocket).

Hounding your boyfriend via text messages until he kills himself, as Michelle Carter learned, is also not protected. Indeed, true threats, harassment, stalking, and cyberbullying are all criminal behavior, although they can be difficult to prosecute.

False reports

For what seem like pretty obvious reasons, filing a false police report is also a crime. That’s what got Amy Cooper, currently the poster child for the “Karen” stereotype, in hot water with the law. Not for her racist rant, which is protected speech. That “only” got her internationally shamed, fired from her job, and her dog adoption rescinded.

For a while, a certain group of online gamers thought “swatting” was pretty funny. This is making calls to police departments to prank them into responding in force to a hapless victim’s address. Hilarious, right? Tyler Barriss thought so, too, until his false call got Andrew Finch, a Wichita man, killed. For this and other “swatting” calls, he’ll spend 20 years in a Federal prison.

Wichita, KS police work the crime scene at the unfortunate Andrew Finch’s house. Finch was the innocent target of a misdirected SWAT raid, killed when police responded to a prank call on 12/29/2018. The caller, Tyler Barris, is now serving a 20-year sentence in Federal prison for his “joke.”
Wichita Police work the crime scene at the Finch residence after a prank “swatting” call went horribly wrong. (Photo by Fernando Salazar/Wichita Eagle/AP, via the New York Times).

Speech is powerful. When used for peace and progress, art, or enlightenment, it can transform communities and uplift lives. When used for evil ends, it can harm, impoverish, or kill. It behooves us all to mind our tongues in certain important ways.

Next week we’ll look at freedom for less-than-popular forms of self-expression that are protected. Even though some people think they shouldn’t be.

If you have thoughts on the things I’ve written here, please let me know in the comments below!

IMAGES:

Many thanks to Indivisible Door County, WI for the text of the First Amendment. The “Allegations Denied” image is from @CelebDirtyLaundry via Twitter. I appreciate Quotestats providing the Robert Green Ingersoll quote, and AZ Quotes for the Alan Greenspan quote. Deepest gratitude to Rolling Stone and illustrator Sean McCabe, for the “Pizzagate” illustration. The full illustration has been cropped in the image I used, but is shown in its entirety lower on the source-page. Many thanks to WMMT Channel 3 of Grand Rapids, MI, for the “aftermath of the riot” photo. I’m grateful to Rogue Rocket for the Trump/Zelensky illustration, and also deeply so to photographer Fernando Salazar, the Wichita Eagle, the AP and the New York Times for the photo of the scene outside Andrew Finch’s house the night he died. I appreciate you all!

Getting right to it!

The Artdog Image of Interest

Some of my friends are brave enough to take the Na-No-Wri-Mo plunge this month. “Na-No-Wri-Mo” stands for National Novel Writing Month, a program designed to help people write their books–or, at least, 50,000 words’ worth of manuscript–in a single, month-long endurance run. 

My own life this year is way too chaotic for me to have many illusions about participating successfully, but my theme for this month’s Quotes and Images of Interest is encouragement to other writers, who are struggling to pound out their 50 thousand words.

IMAGE: While the writer in this cartoon isn’t making much progress, perhaps she’ll offer a smile (and a cautionary note) for others. Many thanks to Cathy Thorne, and her clever Everyday People cartoons!

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