Ferguson and the return of Martin Luther King’s dream

Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference.

Dr. Martin Luther King at a press conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Indicting Darren Wilson will not end racism. It will not even begin to end racism in America. It will not send a message to racist cops. It will not stop black men from being shot by the police. What we need is to return to Martin Luther King’s dream.

The path to redemption is out of the fields of hatred and distrust

If we want to reduce racism, change policing, and stop black men being shot by the police, then we need to take the steps along a hard road, a road harder than protests, speeches, or demonstrations. We have to move beyond the sound bites, and election year promises, to toil in the fields of hatred and distrust. From those barren fields we can grow the promise of redemption. What we must first do is confront our past and our present so that we change our future. The seeds we sow cannot be more hatred and anger; we must sow the seeds of justice as Martin Luther King taught us.

Martin Luther King changed America by changing the laws

Martin Luther King, and Lincoln, knew that the only way to change America peacefully was to change the laws. Today, distrust and hatred of the government and authority will not allow this. Too many people now believe the law is an oppressor. The government is an enemy. The court is persecutor. We have forgotten that Martin Luther King succeeded because he trusted in the government, and the government of men, to do the right thing. He succeeded before distrust and hatred of the government became endemic in America. He succeeded because he appealed to America’s better nature. He called for a disciplined effort that drew upon a long tradition of non-violent action. Action, though, was not what set him apart. His oratory did not set him apart.  What set him apart, and continues to set him apart, is that he had a destination. He had a vision that included everyone. He wanted to change the laws so that he could change America. He would change it for everyone.

America is a community that is renewed by daily choices of justice and civility

To reduce racism, to improve police community relations, and keep black men from being shot by the police, we need a change. Change, though, begins when we understand the problem. Why did Michael Brown and Darren Wilson intersect so tragically? There is no law that would have stopped what happened. The struggle for the gun, the chase, and the shots: these are already beyond the law. They are in the realm of necessity, not choice. We need to go back to why Michael Brown was in the store. Why did he and his associate confront the officer? Why did he try to grab his gun? We know why Darren Wilson was there. We know why the law was there. Why was Michael Brown there?

Courage to confront our past gives us the freedom to make our future

If we lack the courage to confront those questions, we cannot go forward. If we do not know how we have arrived at our present how can we change our future? What shaped Michael Brown is the hard truth that is America. The police shootings are only a symptom. There is no easy answer as to the cause. We can look at socio-economic factors. We can look within the black community. We can look at society. We can look at the police. However, none of these alone will explain the cause until we see what creates a just society. We need to return to the promise of America, the promise of Martin Luther King.

America can only survive if she is bound by a belief in the goodness of the laws.

What we need to change is our approach to the government, to authority, and most importantly, to each other. The change will not come through violence. It will not come through hatred. It will not come through resentment. Change will come from the small daily decisions and efforts we make towards each other. These are the steps we must take to the political goal set out by Martin Luther King. He had a goal. He had a dream. Today the dream seems a nightmare as the only goal seems to be “F*** the police” as if the police and the law are the problem. We, the people, have become the problem. We no longer understand the law and the promise of America, or each other. We no longer seem to believe in the promise of just society that protects the weak and vulnerable not just the powerful and the prominent.

We need to return to the promise of America, the promise of Martin Luther King

If we fail to look at society, we will not understand the problem. If we focus on racism we miss the lack of jobs, the lack of education, and the difficult socio-economic conditions for everyone. These are problems that magnify racism. They need to be addressed if we are to reduce racism for they reflect the lack of justice. Justice and its absence define the relationship between the police and the community in many areas of America. The issue is more than how the police and act and the community respond. The people want to be protected by the law, they want justice. The police enforce the law, but they fail to deliver justice.  They cannot deliver justice when communities see the police as pacifying them and not working with them to create a shared community of justice. When the police see their role in this way, the law becomes a stranger and justice a shadow. We cannot close our eyes to the reality that many communities can longer exercise self-government and order is imposed on them.

From political equality we can rebuild the American dream

These are not the problems of one community, they are America’s problem. Americans have begun to forget what is required for self government. Communities need political change so that they can create a legitimate order based in justice. Martin Luther King understood that political change and political equality were for everyone. The Civil Rights legislation was a starting point not a destination. We have lost sight of that understanding. We expect the law to end racism. We expect the law to create social equality. When the law cannot deliver these outcomes, communities come to see it as an oppressor or a tool to advantage one group. The law cannot end racism, or poverty, or inequality. It can create political equality from which we can address racism that emerges from the socio-economic disparities. These disparities affect all of us as they show that our common good, our access to justice, is severely limited. Until we see that it is a problem beyond black or white, rich or poor, man or woman, we will continue to fail. We must return to the laws and follow the path to justice. Martin Luther King showed us the way by his example. Our freedom is in the law and what it means. Until we return to the path; we cannot reach the Promised Land.

Let us follow in Dr. King’s footsteps so we can quench our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of sweetness and love. Only then can we find justice born of equality.

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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