A new celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday arrives at a moment when racial tension in our society is primarily manifesting itself through the relationship between communities of color and the Police. Several decades have passed since the assassination of the civil rights leader, and many positive changes have taken place. Still, King would certainly recognize that today’s police brutality is a byproduct of discrimination.
The deaths of African-Americans by white police officers in confusing situations, and the complicity of district attorneys to defend and justify those accused of acting improperly, gave way to widespread protests in cities throughout the country. The Black Lives Matter movement has expressed a frustration that, far from being understood, has been mistakenly seen as an attack on the police force, making racial tensions worse. Both during King’s time and today, some politicians benefit from adding fuel to the fire.
King would also recognize ‒ in horror ‒ that the Voting Rights Act he fought so hard for has been deprived of an important protection it provided minorities, and that the Supreme Court eliminated Section 5, which required states with a history of racism to receive federal authorization before implementing electoral laws. Now, several states have taken advantage of this and passed measures to make voting more difficult. In Texas, for instance, the government resuscitated practices that had been considered a thing of the past with the purpose of diluting the Latino vote.
The national debate over the Confederate flag would probably have been of King’s liking, even though it is still waving in some states. It would have deeply saddened him that it took a massacre perpetrated by a young white man in a black church to finally have a discussion on the topic. It would seem that the South has not changed much, but this time the perversity of the “Southern values” the flag represents was openly debated.
Barack Obama’s two terms would have undoubtedly made King happy, since the fact that an African-American reached the White House could be expected to mean the end of racism. However, during the last 8 years, there was a never-before-seen level of insult and personal attack on a U.S. President.
King would surely have been able to appreciate the advances, but we believe that he would also see the need to continue his fight for everyone’s rights.