Mass Incarceration

Commentary: We Have Attempted to Sanitize the Legacy of Dr. King

By David M. Greenwald
Government Editor

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of MLK Day as a federal vacation.  How simple it’s to overlook as everybody journeys over themselves to honor the legacy of Dr. King, that King in his day was a polarizing and despised determine in lots of mainstream quarters and that even 40 years in the past, almost 15 years after his loss of life, it was controversial making a federal vacation to honor his legacy.

Flash ahead in time and King has turn into a sanitized determine.  Folks keep in mind the “I Have a Dream Speech” and overlook the novel King that took the system by storm and compelled modified on a nation reluctant to reside as much as its creed.

Social media on Monday was a mass of messages honoring King and his legacy.  However a few of these struck me the flawed approach.

The FBI as an illustration: “On this 40th anniversary of #MLKDay as a federal vacation, the #FBI honors one of the crucial outstanding leaders of the Civil Rights motion and reaffirms its dedication to Dr. King’s legacy of equity and equal justice for all.

I’m wondering if whoever designed that tweet realized simply how ironic it was.  In any case, throughout King’s lifetime, the FBI illegally wiretapped him. Tried to infiltrate the Civil Rights Motion by way of COINTELPRO and even wrote a letter making an attempt to get the Rev. King to kill himself.

Whilst you can argue it’s not the identical FBI because it was underneath J. Edgar Hoover within the Nineteen Sixties, I additionally discovered it ironic all the DA’s places of work throughout the nation which have equally honored Dr. King.

I attempted exhausting to suppress my chortle when San Luis Obispo DA Dan Dow tweeted out assist for MLK.  That is the workplace preventing to have an opportunity to prosecute Tianna Arata and different protesters who blocked site visitors on the freeway within the weeks following the loss of life of George Floyd.

In any case, as we properly know, MLK would by no means block site visitors on a freeway—oh wait.  By no means thoughts.

Nearer to house was DA Jeff Reisig’s message.  That is the DA who in 2020, when Public Defender Tracie Olson identified the inequities within the jail, he unleashed an assault upon her.

DAs throughout the nation are partly chargeable for locking Black and brown individuals disproportionately into cages—mass incarceration, what Michelle Alexander has known as the New Jim Crow.  However all of them paused their pursuit of placing the descendants of civil rights advocates into cages to honor the legacy of Dr. King.

It’s undoubtedly a mark of progress on this nation that we now have gone from MLK as a polarizing determine to MLK as a sanitized teddy bear.

As a scholar of Dr. King, I’ve pulled collectively some quotes I highlighted in my studying over the past yr.

Keep in mind, King has a legacy of civil disobedience.  Which means disobeying unjust legal guidelines.

From the letter from the Birmingham Jail: “So I’ve tried to make it clear that it’s flawed to make use of immoral means to achieve ethical ends.  However now I have to affirm that it’s simply as flawed, or much more so, to make use of ethical means to protect immoral ends.”

He later added, “There are simply legal guidelines and there are unjust legal guidelines. I might be the primary to advocate obeying simply legal guidelines. One has not solely a authorized however an ethical duty to obey simply legal guidelines. Conversely, one has an ethical duty to disobey unjust legal guidelines.

MLK: “[F]or passively to co-operate with an unjust system makes the oppressed as evil because the oppressors.”

King on Riots:

Dwelling with the day by day ugliness of slum life, academic castration and financial exploitation, some ghetto dwellers at times strike out in spasms of violence and self-defeating riots. A riot is at backside the language of the unheard. It’s the determined, suicidal cry of 1 who’s so fed up with the powerlessness of his cave existence that he asserts that he would reasonably be lifeless than ignored.

Touring Watts just a few days after that nightmarish riot in 1965, Bayard Rustin, Andrew Younger and I confronted a bunch of children who stated to us joyously, “We gained.”

We requested them: “How are you going to say you gained when thirty-four Negroes are lifeless, your neighborhood is destroyed, and whites are utilizing the riot as an excuse for inaction?”

Their reply: “We gained as a result of we made them take note of us.”

So long as persons are ignored, so long as they’re voice-less, so long as they’re trampled by the iron ft of exploitation, there may be the hazard that they, like little youngsters, could have their emotional outbursts which is able to get away in violence within the streets.

White individuals want to coach themselves:

“Whites, it should frankly be stated, usually are not placing in an identical mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It’s a side of their sense of superiority that the white individuals of America consider they’ve so little to study. The fact of considerable funding to help Negroes into the 20th century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and real college integration, continues to be a nightmare for all too many white Individuals.”

(I might argue this nonetheless holds true at present).

King on Affirmative Motion – many consider that King one way or the other would have opposed affirmative motion. 

“It’s, nevertheless, necessary to grasp that giving a person his due might typically imply giving him particular therapy. I’m conscious of the truth that this has been a hard idea for a lot of liberals, because it conflicts with their conventional ultimate of equal alternative and equal therapy of individuals in keeping with their particular person deserves. However this can be a day which calls for new pondering and the reevaluation of outdated ideas. A society that has carried out one thing particular in opposition to the Negro for tons of of years should now do one thing particular for him, as a way to equip him to compete on a simply and equal foundation.”

I discover this quote, nevertheless, much more attention-grabbing:

“4 million newly liberated slaves discovered themselves with no bread to eat, no land to domesticate, no shelter to cowl their heads. It was like releasing a person who had been unjustly imprisoned for years, and on discovering his innocence sending him out with no bus fare to get house, no go well with to cowl his physique, no monetary compensation to atone for his lengthy years of incarceration and to assist him get a sound footing in society; sending him out with solely the assertion: ‘Now you might be free.’ What better injustice might society perpetrate?”

Not solely does this quote apply to affirmative motion, however it applies to our follow at present of how we deal with many who’ve been wrongly convicted, and even some whom we now have justly incarcerated.

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