By King County Council Member Larry Gossett
Thursday, January 15, 2015, marks the 86th birthday of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. And as some PSARA members know, 86 is the new 76, or even the new 70, if one is lucky enough to reach the awesome age of 86 in relatively good health. This is why I confidently predict that were Dr. King alive today, he would be speaking eloquently against the unjustifiably high numbers of poor Black males being killed or seriously injured by white police officers, often under suspicious circumstances, in urban communities all across our country. Dr. King would be witnessing the outrage and protest taking place across the nation. He would note that people of all races are marching and participating in huge rallies around the modern day movement mantras of “no justice, no peace!” and “black lives matter!”
The three most visible cases highlighted by protesters, as being “tragically unjust,” are the senseless killings of Eric Garner in Brooklyn, N. Y., Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and 12 year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. But there are many more!
Dr. King would hear the same complaints he heard from many whites while leading civil rights protests in the South. They cautioned protesters to “be patient,” “stop rioting,” and “obey the law” or to “get a job.” And like he did back in the 1960’s, he would be brutally honest in his response to them. He would talk to them about how difficult it is to acknowledge truths about the sordid history of race relations in this country. America, he would say, began in “black plunder and white democracy”. The men and women who founded the United States dedicated its beginning to a commitment to “freedom, equality and the pursuit of happiness” for whites only. Most of the founding fathers either owned African slaves or joined hands with those who did.
He would say, “This is the crux of the problem we are still wrestling with nearly 400 years after the first African slaves were brought over to colonial America. Blacks had their bodies plundered, their families plundered and their labor plundered. Meanwhile, Europeans coming to America experienced a fuller expression of freedom and democracy in the new world than they had ever dreamed was possible in Europe.” He then would elaborate, by explaining, “This feature of life in North America was seen by the majority of whites not as a contradictory phenomenon, but as a complementary one.”
Dr. King would try to help Americans understand that the inability of whites to see Blacks as equal human beings has become an intrinsic part of America’s “unlovely history.” He would remind us that the brutal history of economic exploitation and racism is still alive and well in places like Ferguson, Missouri. Dr. King’s analysis would be clear, focused and direct. He might say something like:
“I hear many commentators on CNN and MSNBC and white counter-demonstrators telling black protesters in Ferguson to be patient, go slow, stop rioting, get a job—but they are saying nothing about Michael Brown being an unarmed black teenager, with his hands up in the universal symbol of surrender when the white policeman repeatedly shot him. They have said little about the fact that the population of Ferguson is 65 percent black, but the police department only has seen it fit to hire three black police officers (out of a total of 53 officers). I am also concerned that as we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Bill, that there are seven city council members in Ferguson and not one of them is African American. I say to you, my friends, we are hearing some unmistakable cries for social change and reform in Ferguson today!”
Martin Luther King, Jr. would not conclude his time with us without recognizing that progress has been made, and that we must continue to believe that “we are all capable of helping America live out its true meaning and destiny.” He would point out that the implementation of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights measures have enabled millions of African Americans to move into the middle class; segregation and other Jim Crow laws have, for the most part, died a righteous death.
Finally, if he were in Seattle to celebrate his birthday with us, he would be quite taken aback to find that in this extremely beautiful and wealthy county that bears his name, Black people in Seattle have seen their average annaul household incomes drop in just two years from $34,000 in 2012, to a shocking $25,700 in 2014. This startling decline in wages, Dr. King would be told, means Black families in Seattle are now the ninth poorest in the country. For comparison, he’d be informed that the annual household income for white families in Seattle has reached $72,000.
He’d conclude his discussion with us by saying, “we got a lot of work to do.”
My hope is this tribute to Dr. King will refresh people’s memory about why we so love this great American, what his legacy means, and how it continues to inspire us today!
Larry Gossett is a Metropolitan King County Council Member and a PSARA member.