Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 86th Anniversary of His Birth
Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.
~Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Price Acceptance Speech
I’ve been pondering what Dr. King might say and do were he alive today. What would his message be in the aftermath of the instances of killings of unarmed Blacks by members of law enforcement as well as the ambush-style killing of two police officers in New York?
What do we see happening today? On the one hand, according to an analysis of seven years of FBI data (2005-2012) submitted by local law enforcement, 96 unarmed Blacks were among the 400 reported deaths of Blacks by members of local law enforcement. Because only a small number of precincts reported statistics to the FBI, this may well be an underestimate. More recently, we recall the death of Dontre Hamilton in Red Arrow Park in Milwaukee on April 30th. Unarmed and suffering from mental illness, he was shot 14 times by Christopher Manney (a White police officer who is not being charged with the death). We also remember the killing of Michael Brown by a White police officer on August 9th in Ferguson, MO. That officer, too, is not being indicted. The death of unarmed Blacks at the hands of White police officers occurs all too often, with law enforcement officers often cleared of wrongful death. The situation has given rise to a wave of protests across the country under the banner Black Lives Matter.
On the other hand, in 2014, 50 officers were killed in the line of duty, 15 of them ambush style (see article). Among them were Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos who were shot while sitting in their patrol car in Brooklyn, NY, on December 20th, 2014. A number of counter protests are now taking place to support law enforcement officials. In today’s Fond du Lac Reporter, for instance, Paul Pfeffer invited people to rally in support of local law enforcement on Saturday, January 24th from 2-3:30 on West Johnson Street. Will rallies such as this further exacerbate the racial divide?
I’m concerned about what seems to me to be a false dichotomy – if I hold that Black Lives Matter I am perceived to be in opposition to law enforcement officers (and vice versa). Why does the racial divide continue to be so problematic in our country more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement? An article posted by Public Religion shows that the divide seems to be growing deeper: http://publicreligion.org/2014/10/graphic-of-the-week-americans-racial-disconnect-on-fairness-and-discrimination/.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his commitment to nonviolence may again be a source of inspiration for us. He believed that the enemy is not the individual “out there” but rather the prejudice that rests in our own hearts. We form the Beloved Community by living Christ’s commandment to love one another. Eugene Peterson, in his biblical translation The Message presents Jesus’ challenge in modern parlance:
43 "You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten
companion, 'Hate your enemy.' 44 I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your
enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives
you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working
out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives
his best - the sun to warm and the rain to nourish - to everyone, regardless: the
good and bad, the nice and nasty. 46 If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect
a bonus? Anybody can do that. 47 If you simply say hello to those who greet you,
do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. 48 "In a word, what
I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your
God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God
lives toward you.”
Imago Dei. Made in God’s image. I believe that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would invite us to refuse to hate. Instead, show mutual love and respect to everyone – Black or White, civilian or police, poor or rich. For love is of God. And it is the only way to vanquish the racial divide that bedevils us.