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Tag: violence

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.

Days of the Dead: Remembering the victims of human-made disasters

What can we do?

Sometimes we tend to look at the state of the world today, and say, “I’m just one person. What can I possibly do that makes any difference?” In yesterday’s All Saints Day post, I invited a pause to remember the amazing and valuable people who have perished in natural disasters this year–then to think about our own best response to those who are left behind. But not all disasters come in the form of storms, fires or earthquakes.

Do you think of all terrorism as local? In every case, it’s local to somebody–and wherever such attacks occur, they’re flat wrong. Here, some of my brothers and sisters in Christ (who happen to live in Egypt) were the target. But no community in any country of the world is invulnerable, and terrorism is always wrong, no matter who does it or why.

On this All Souls Day, it would do the world good to remember that too many disasters–this year and every year–are created by humans. And those human-made disasters routinely kill people and destroy lives in vast numbers.

In response to those, our wisest reaction is very much not to throw up our hands and ask, “What can anybody do?” Our clear call to action in those cases is to sit up, take notice, and ask “What can I do to help?” Because if we are not part of the solution to human-made disasters . . . well, you know how that one ends.

The headlines are full of the opiod epidemic sweeping the world right now–talk about a human-made disaster!–but addictions to alcoholgambling, and many other things abound, while understanding (and appropriate compassion for victims) lags seriously behind.

Terrorismaddictiongun violencehuman traffickinghomicidesdomestic violencesexual harassment and assaulttraffic accidentspollution and environmental degradationcoarsening civil discourse, and the determined efforts of many lawmakers to dismantle social safety nets and leave the poor, the elderly, the disabled and children vulnerable . . . no single human can tackle everything

But every single human can take on something

Just one of myriad examples of environmental degradation: cleanup after an oil spill in Nigeria.

What issues pull at you most strongly? Do you thirst for justice, despite living a class-stratified, discriminatory culture where too many nonviolent offenders are locked up for too long, while all too many better-funded violent offenders seem invulnerable?

Is your passion a yearning for greater kindness and civility in our communities? Compassion for the vulnerable at the hands of oppression? Are you worried over the degrading quality of our natural environment?

Each of those causes has an active community of people working to counteract it. I urge you to find one that suits your personality and concerns, then get involved.

You may not be able to solve the problem single-handedly, but you owe it to yourself and your world to do what you can. As long as we have life, that is the job of every moral being.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Casa Bonampak, for the Days of the Dead Papel Picado banner at the top (handy place to buy them); to NewsInfo on Inquirer.net for the photo of the Egyptian church aftermath; to CBC News for the photo of paramedics working on an overdose victim (and a story about how one paramedic copes with his job); to InvestorKing, for the oil spill photo and accompanying article about environmental degradation in Nigeria by oil companies; and to Pinterest for the quote image.

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