Although it is believed that he didn’t see himself as such, most of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s published articles, sermons and books were prophetic.
In a published article, “Showdown for Nonviolence,” that came out shortly after his death in April 1968, Dr. King wrote in Look magazine, “If this society fails, I fear that we will learn very shortly that racism is a sickness unto death.”
2015 was a year of protests — staged and impromptu demonstrations — and a three-week occupation of a city police station’s block in North Minneapolis. Police-community relations around the country have sunk to subterranean levels.
“Ferguson, Missouri. Prairie View, Texas. Chicago. New York City. Cleveland. Baltimore. Minneapolis…a growing wedge between the police and the community finally hit home,” said MPR News Programming Director Jonathan Blakely at a panel discussion last month at the Minneapolis Urban League. “The shooting of Jamar Clark [in November]…reminded the country that our city is not immune to problems of racism.”
Hate speech on the campaign trail seemingly has become acceptable, as one presidential candidate — who unabashedly at each whistle stop has advocated that America revert back to pre-World War I isolationism — verbally attacks anyone who doesn’t look like him or who are non-Christians.
“GOP leading presidential candidate Donald Trump slammed immigrants and the Muslim community with inhumane and xenophobic statements just to score political points,” notes Father James Wilson of St. Paul’s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. He’s worried about “extreme wickedness” in this country and worldwide.
“White America has allowed itself to be indifferent to race prejudice and economic denial,” said Dr. King in 1968, adding that too many non-Black Americans back then treated racism, prejudice and the mitigating factors as “superficial blemishes.”
“The American people are infected with racism — that is the peril,” continued Dr. King. “Paradoxically, they are also infected with democratic ideals — that is the hope. While doing wrong, they have the potential to do right. But they do not have a millennium to make changes. Nor have they a choice of continuing in the old way.”
The recent decision by a Cleveland grand jury not to indict a White officer in the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice — who had a pellet gun, not a deadly weapon when he was shot by an officer — reaffirmed the call by Black Lives Matter to demand for the end of grand juries.
“America is reaping the harvest of hate and shame planted through generations of educational denial, political disfranchisement and economic exploitation of its Black population,” surmised Dr. King of the summer of 1967 when civil disturbances occurred in Newark, Detroit and other cities.
Could America once again be heading for another “harvest” if killings of Black people at the hands of police continue to be ruled justifiable by grand juries?
“Justice for me and Black Lives Matter looks like the police…stop killing us,” says Adja Gildersleve of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis.
“The split-second-decision law enforcement practice, often interpreted as ‘self-defense,’ is really confusing and destroying precious lives,” adds Father Wilson, who once served on the Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center police departments’ multicultural advisory committee for 10 years.
A legendary proponent of nonviolence, Dr. King warned America, “Black Americans have been patient people” but are rapidly growing tired of elected officials at every level of government who persist on dragging their feet to change. “I’m frank enough to admit that if our non-violent campaign doesn’t generate some progress, people are just going to engage in more violent activity…
“The seams of our entire social order are weakening under strains of neglect,” he observed, adding that the U.S. “has not yet recognized the seriousness” of such problems as police shootings.
“We find the heritage of oppression and racism erupting in our cities, with volcanic lava of bitterness and frustration pouring down our avenues,” concluded Dr. King.
As a result, his warning a half-century ago should be taken seriously today.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.