Justice Matters

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...
Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deutsch: 1964: Martin Luther King Português: Martin Luther King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I traditionally abhor marching, the Martin Luther King -type march. It’s my opinion that there are too many marches and too little action.


The march planned this weekend, then, in Washington D.C., commemorating the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech doesn’t move me. Sorry. It just doesn’t. That thousands of dollars have been raised for this march, to be used to pay for porta-potties and parking privileges, and probably for noted people who will speak is troubling to me as well. All that money being spent  for one or two days…when communities of black, brown and poor people are floundering …does not make moral sense to me.


But the work being done by a group devoted to empowering people and informing them about the social justice issues of today does excite me. The Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, Inc., (SDPC) named in honor of a civil rights icon,  the late Rev. Dr. Samuel Dewitt Proctor, deserves attention.


SDPC has invited 50 students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to participate in teach-ins. They will learn about the social justice issued faced and addressed by Dr. King in 1963, but they will also be taught about the social justice issues facing black, brown, poor and marginalized people today: issues including mass incarceration and the lack of jobs for “the least of these.”


This group, through an initiative called  the “To Be Free At Last Movement,” has created spaces for individuals and institutions to come together and forge partnerships that go across racial, ethnic, professional and denominational lines. That seems wonderfully Christian to me, reflecting an understanding of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. That seems, as well, wonderfully indicative of an understanding of Dr. King’s desire to build a “beloved community,” where capitalism, militarism and imperialism are pushed aside as groups within the boundaries of the United States seek to make the way for justice to be meted out to those who need it most, but for whom it seems most elusive.


During this weekend, and in the days leading up to August 28, these students will learn what’s before them, and will plan a rally honoring A. Philip Randolph that will be held at Union Station in our nation’s capital.  On Sunday, the torch of leadership will be passed to them by veteran civil rights and labor leaders including John Thomas and C.T. Vivian. They will also participate in a Town Hall Meeting with Judge Greg Mathis during the weekend’s events.


With as much as there is at stake for “the least of these,” it is comforting to feel like someone gets it and is being intentional about training people to carry on what was begun back in the days of slavery. A high note was reached by Dr. King when he gave his famous speech, but many people have said that his dream has become a nightmare. African-Americans are still struggling, as far too many African-American men are incarcerated, and young African-American men still cannot get employment. There is still an overlying spirit of racism that suggests that black people are bad people, unworthy of freedom and too apt to complain when they have access to anything they want.


In theory, perhaps, but in actuality, that is not the case, and that’s why the work of social justice as concerns “the least of these” is so important.  It is important that young people be trained and strengthened even as they enter the fray.  Obtaining social justice for and by “the least of these” is some of the most difficult work ever. Those who fight for it fight against power, which, we all know and as Frederick Douglass said,  “concedes nothing without a struggle.” These young people are being sent into the lion’s den, so to speak, a lion’s den that people like Dr. King and Rev. Vivian and Rep. Lewis  knew and know well. They are being equipped to carry on the work – with all of its attendant opposition – of people like the late Fannie Lou Hamer and Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. They are being equipped to struggle not only for black, brown and poor people, but people in the LGBT community as well. Justice is a right of all American citizens. Dr. King said he looked forward to the day when all of America’s children, black and white, Christian and Jew …would be able to walk and work together. It hasn’t happened yet, and in the name of globalization, the spread of people needing justice has grown.  Justice matters.


That an organization is willing to take on the behemoth task of equipping young people to carry on the work that Dr. King talked about is exciting. It is worth tapping into.


The march? Not so much.


A candid observation …




Rodney King: American Legend?

Rodney King poster
Rodney King poster (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)

An American legend has died.

Some may disagree with me, but how can Rodney King be called anything less than a legend?

When King’s horrific beating by police officers was caught on tape and publicized, I remember feeling a glimmer of hope. All along there had been cries of police brutality in the African-American community, but nobody would listen. The prevailing thought seemed to be that black people were just …bad people…and the good officers were only doing their jobs with  a people who had to be tamed.

No matter how loud the groundswell was from any particular community about what police were doing, nobody would listen. There seemed to be a “gentleman’s agreement” that what police did in black communities would remain in black communities, cries of injustice and excessive violence notwithstanding.

It made the black community feel invisible.

But with the video of King’s beating …I, and, I am sure, many others, felt like a just society would see. A justice system interested in justice would see; police departments all over the country would see; American citizens who were all too eager to write the black community off as troublemakers would see.

That belief spawned hope. Now it wouldn’t be “our” word against “theirs.” In a land where it was promised that there would be “liberty and justice for all,” justice would now come to the white officers who were caught on tape.

That was wishful thinking, however, and it really should be no surprise that after the officers were acquitted that there was a backlash. If it was that not even a video which showed what African-Americans had talked about for so long that would shake the foundations of excessive force so often used by police on African-Americans, then what would work?

King’s beating represented a raisin in the sun, a raisin of hope which exploded in a thousand fragments as that hope was dashed.

King didn’t set out to become a legend, but what happened to him thrust the issue of police violence, police brutality, into the spotlight. He became a legend by default. What happened to him, and how the justice system really ignored what was on that tape, became fodder for those whose social justice focus is police brutality. I am not quite sure how much progress has been made, but for certain, the awareness of what happens on the streets with too many citizens and police officers was heightened by King’s unfortunate experience.

Lots has been said about King’s demons. He never did really get his life under control if media accounts are to be believed. Drugs and alcohol were constant companions, and he was able to squander millions of dollars awarded to him after his beating. Everyone knows about that.

But what we may not know, or may not want to admit, is that King is a part of the American fabric, a thread in the cloth that nobody wanted in the cloth, most especially powers that be that have a vested interest in protecting the status quo.

King’s beating, and the subsequent acquittal of those officers, made a dent in a long-sanctioned system of police brutality, and that really does make him a legend.

A candid observation …




Dr. King and the Trayvon Martin Case

Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference.
Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week, as I listened to different people, primarily white, urge people to “trust” the justice system, and to “wait” for the justice system to work in the Trayvon Martin case, I found myself wanting to cover my ears from the din of useless noise.

Useless noise is exactly what it sounded like, this plea for African-Americans to wait for the justice system to work, because the system has so seldom worked on behalf of black, brown and poor people in this nation.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King talks about “the law,” and how there are just and unjust laws. It seems that white clergy were urging Dr. King to obey the law and to “wait for the justice system to work.” Dr. King pushed back, saying that “there are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.” I thought of the “stand your ground” law that is apparently protecting accused shooter George Zimmerman from being arrested. Truly, that law is just on its face, but it seems like it was unjustly applied in this case.

Dr. King talks about what is “legal,” in his discussion of just and unjust laws. The white clergy were accusing Dr. King of breaking the law, and therefore doing something illegal. Again, Dr. King pushed back, writing, “We can never forget that everything Hitler did in German was legal and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid a Jew in Hitler’s Germany,” he wrote. If, I thought, Trayvon was the aggressor in this case, according to Florida law, he would have been breaking the law, and would have put himself in the position of having to be fought off.

But it just doesn’t seem that that scenario is correct…and it seemed, as I listened to white people urge others to be calm and obey the law and let the justice system work, that they were more concerned with “law and order” than they were, or are, concerned with justice. Said Dr. King: “the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice, who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action,’ who paternally feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom, who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to ‘wait until a more convenient season,” …is frustrating. He said people of good will who have such shallow understanding are more frustrating than people of ill will who have absolute, total misunderstanding.”

It is apparently very difficult for white Americans to understand the “souls” of black people in this nation, who have been so battered, and not bettered by, the justice system. There are reasons why the rage is so obvious about young Trayvon’s shooting and Zimmerman’s non-arrest. The reasons reach far back into our history; many of us have relatives who were abused by a justice system which never intended to exhibit justice toward them or their cases. And now, here in the 21st century, we find that really not all that much progress has been made.

Roland Martin, CNN commentator, said that if there are no protests, we cannot hope for justice. Had it not been for the bravery and tenacity of Trayvon’s parents, this case would have been swept under the rug with no mention; another young black male would simply have been buried…but Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s parents, sounded the battle cry, blew the trumpet, if you will. Their refusal to let their son die in vain reminded me of how Emmett Till‘s mother, Mamie, catapulted the national shame called lynching to international attention when she refused to let her son’s death be ignored.

Dr. King, in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote, “Oppressed  people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come.”  He acknowledged that “few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.

Dr. King’s words, written in the mid 1960s, are just as appropriate today. The demonstrations against what appears to be gross injustice in the Trayvon Martin case must continue …or else, there will be no justice.

A candid observation…