Dogs and Dr. King a poor mix

By Matthew Little
Guest Commentator

It may seem like a minor happening, but among a growing number of Minneapolis Southside residents and many others there is seething concern regarding a recent proposal to place an imposing dog park inside the Martin Luther King Park.

As was indicated in a front-page article of this publication a few weeks ago [“Blacks, Whites divided over dog park’s significance,” Sept. 9], most of the supporters of the idea are not people of color. As a matter of fact, some of them seem totally unable to comprehend why some of their African American neighbors felt so strongly against having a dog park within this neighborhood park.

The truth of the matter is that the derision of the idea is in no way related to resentment toward the animals themselves. Instead, it derives from the symbolism of the park’s name. Certainly, those of us feel strongly about it who worked tirelessly persuading the Minneapolis powers of control at the time that South Minneapolis merited a commemorative remembrance of Dr. King.

And regardless of how we may feel regarding the importance of recreation and excretion for dogs, a dog park will certainly add nothing positive to the legacy of Dr. King, for whom the park is named. The only role dogs played in the historic journey of freedom that Dr. King championed were the vicious canines that racist police used on Dr. King’s nonviolent peace marchers.

Leading the fight against the dog park proposal is a local chapter of AARP (#5203) that was started by Marilyn McElroy, veteran senior advocate, and is presently chaired by Charles Mayes, a former city employee and community activist. The proposal is yet to be decided, and the group is determined to continue its efforts in opposition.

It is not strange that a senior group would take the lead in this contention, for they are more closely connected with the generation of Dr. King’s battles and victories. At least a couple of them were part of the contingent representing Minnesota in the now-famous March on Washington when Dr. King gave his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech.

That speech is seen as the culmination of his successful effort to change the cultural norms of an entire nation. Not only did it mark the end of legal segregation in the U.S., it also mandated equal opportunities for all.

The mere suggestion of a dog park in Dr. King’s park was seen by some as emblematic of the changing times in which we live today, with a gradual shift away from the concepts for which Dr. King worked and died. On the national scene, the rise and acceptance of the so-called “Tea Party movement” in American politics is cited as an example.

In the name of reforming the excesses of big federal government, the Tea Party has consistently and vociferously opposed every progressive measure that President Obama has proposed. Some of its members have even suggested doing away with the Department of Civil Rights.

While it might be somewhat hyperbolic to relate the placement of a dog park with the current rise of a somewhat questionable political movement, it might well be an indication of the gradual diminution of the lofty ideals that Dr. King taught us all.

Matthew Little welcomes re- ader responses to mlittle @spokesman-recorder.com.