What Do We Do Now, Dr. King?

What Do We Do Now, Dr. King? part 1

"Keep your lamps trimmed and burning."

Sometimes it's hard to keep shining the light of justice. There’s just so much darkness we cannot illuminate it all. No, you can’t. We can’t fix everything. No, you can’t. But WE can. You just illuminate your part. Let others illuminate other parts. Bring your small lamp. The darkness is overwhelming, but what else you gonna do with your life? Keep your lamp trimmed and burning.

Martin Luther King, Jr, was born on this day in 1929. Were he still alive, he’d be 88-years-old on Jan 15, 2017. What would he have done in the 49 years since his death in 1968? What would he be counseling us today? How would he assess the areas of greatest need, given where we are now?

And where are we now? The Justice Department report this week found that in the Chicago Police Department “excessive force was rampant, rarely challenged and chiefly aimed at African-Americans and Latinos.” Also this week, the Justice Department and the Baltimore Police Department finalized a consent decree for reform, flowing from the Justice Department’s blistering report last August of systemic racial bias in Baltimore’s policing. Two years ago, a Justice Department investigation into the Cleveland Police Department found a pattern of “unreasonable and unnecessary use of force” – “insufficient accountability mechanisms, inadequate training, ineffective policies, and inadequate community engagement.” That report led to a consent decree approved in 2015 June.

Earlier Justice Department investigations led to consent decrees in Albuquerque, in Detroit, in New Orleans, in Seattle. In all, the Justice Department under Eric Holder – continued by Loretta Lynch -- have investigated nearly two dozen police departments, usually leading to consent decrees: court overseen mandates for reform.

So far, the consent decrees haven’t done much. Last April, a Fault Lines investigation of Albuquerque, for example, found that a year and a half after that city’s consent decree was issued, “change was only scratching the surface and that the corrupt and violent culture of the police department continued unabated.”

Change was never going to come that fast. The habits are too deep, attitudes too entrenched. Still Justice Department pressure for compliance with consent decrees offered our best hope. Yet our president-elect and his pick for Attorney General are both seen as hostile to police oversight agreements.

What do we do now, Dr. King?

Starting Friday, our president will be a man whose company the Justice Department sued ― twice ― for not renting to black people. In 1992, his Hotel and Casino company in New Jersey was fined $200,000 because managers would remove African-American card dealers at the request of a certain big-spending gambler.

Well, that was a long time ago.

During the recent campaign, he was supported by white supremacists.

Maybe that doesn’t mean much.

That he refused to condemn the white supremacists who advocated for him means more.

His rhetoric, while often inconsistent, is consistent in treating racial groups as monoliths –
“treating all the members of the group ― all the individual human beings ― as essentially the same and interchangeable. Language is telling, here: Virtually every time Trump mentions a minority group, he uses the definite article the, as in ‘the Hispanics,’ ‘the Muslims’ and ‘the blacks.’" (Lydia O'Connor & Daniel Marans)
Well, maybe these linguistic tell-tales are just quirks, verbal ticks.

He encouraged the mob anger that resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of the Central Park Five. At a 2015 November campaign rally in Alabama, he condoned the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester.

Then came the election. In the 10 days following November 8, there were nearly 900 hate incidents across the U.S.:
“vandals drew swastikas on a synagogue, schools, cars and driveways; an assailant beat a gay man while saying the ‘president says we can kill all you faggots now’; and children telling their black classmates to sit in the back of the school bus. In nearly 40 percent of the incidents, people explicitly invoked the president-elect’s name or his campaign slogans.” (O'Connor & Marans)
Is that his fault?

His campaign gave license to those hate acts, and if his supporters were misinterpreting him, he could have made clear that he regards this hate as serious, as damaging to the victims and to our social fabric, and issued a full-throated denunciation. Instead, he downplayed the incidents, and his denunciation was half-hearted.

The president-elect “has picked top advisers and cabinet officials whose careers are checkered by accusations of racially biased behavior.”

Whatever debates we may have about the advisability of most of his policy ideas, I do believe it is fair to say, our country is entering a phase where the concerns of racial justice will receive even less attention from the federal government.

What do we do now, Dr. King?

* * *
This is part 1 of 3 of "What Do We Do Now, Dr. King?"
See also
Part 2: MLK: Feeling Our Way
Part 3: Can't Fix Everything

No comments:

Post a Comment