Martin Luther King Jr. We did not protect him.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a great person, but that’s not the reason his memorial is on the Washington Mall. Like Abraham Lincoln, King’s memorial is on the Mall because he was assassinated. Although the speeches today touched on the struggles ahead to realize his dream, not much was said about the violence of his death.
It is said we are an optimistic people. We are dreamers. Nothing can keep us down or stop our progress. I think we need to stop dreaming, to wake up, and to see the violence that violates all of us.
Our nation began not only with the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock, but also with the slave owners of James Town. Our optimism is largely based on ignoring the violence in our land: the violence of slavery, of Jim Crow, of segregation, of incarceration, of war.
We are a violent nation. You can see it in our wars. You can see it in our sports. You can see it in our streets. You can see it in the recent assassinations and attempted assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan and others.
What is missing in the American Dream? Protection. We may respect each person’s right to live his or her own life. We may honor our commitments. But we do not protect each other. In our country, you-are-on-your-own. We will protect your property, but not your dignity. We will protect your right to use your money as you wish, but we have a long way to go to protect the right to be free from the oppression of others.
We did not protect Martin Luther King Jr. We did not protect him. Until we digest that, all our dreaming may be in vain.