A check of the hospitals in any Negro community on any Saturday night will make you painfully aware of the violence within the Negro community. -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Forty years ago on April 4, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. There is a chilling parallel in his assassination and the recent murder of Jamiel Shaw and the near killing of Lavarea Elzy. They, as Dr. King, are innocents. The victims in the recent spike in the mostly black on black and Latino on Latino murder violence in Los Angeles has stirred hand wringing, head scratching and finger pointing among LAPD officials, local elected officials and community residents in a desperate effort to get a handle on the violence.
But whether it was the assassins bullet that claimed the life of one of historys most prominent and beloved fighters for peace and justice, or an innocent such as Shaw its still painful, heart wrenching and screams for an answer. The King led civil rights movement provided two answers to the violence plague. The first was Kings fight for racial justice and economic uplift. That meant far more than simply integrating a lunch counter or drinking out of a whites only fountain. It meant ending the disparities in the criminal justice system, a full court attack on failing public schools, providing affordable health care and housing for all, decent jobs at decent pay especially for young black males that face near Great Depression chronic levels of unemployment, and comprehensive family support programs to prevent family break-up. Economic and racial equality are essential to boosting self-esteem, self-worth, and community caring values among young African-Americans and other minority youth. That would be a giant step toward cutting down the carnage that has plagued many poor black and Latino urban neighborhoods.
Even before James Earl Rays bullet tore through Kings neck, he had denounced the attacks against stores, shops and police by young blacks following a march by striking Memphis sanitation workers. Kings horror of violence by blacks or whites was never far from his mind. But he knew that simply calling for an end to the violence was an empty gesture if he and other civil rights leaders werent willing to lead by example and make nonviolence the heart of their philosophy, practice and preachment, and if need be sacrifice their lives rather than resort to violence.
Kings second answer to ending the carnage in Los Angeles and other urban neighborhoods was to instill in young blacks a reverence for life. He and other civil rights leaders understood that a big reason it was so easy for blacks to slaughter each other with impunity was that their lives were devalued by the killers and by larger society. This indifference to life created an internal hostile climate that was fueled by the endemic high unemployment and poor education among many poor black and Latino youth.
Though black-on black murder did not top the murder charts in some big cities during the heyday of the 1960s civil rights movement, the seeds of the violence were there. The seed remained the economic and social neglect and destitution of the inner cities. King did not explicitly call for a moratorium on urban killings during his lifetime. The issue for the civil rights leaders then was still the fight to end the vestiges of Jim Crow discrimination and the developing battle against poverty.
The assassins bullet that felled King sent the horrible and grotesque message that if violence could claim a King, it could claim anyones life. The only thing that could stop it was a deep, intense, and sustained commitment by society to work toward peace and social justice and by African-Americans to fully repair and restore pride and devotion to family and community.
Forty years after the murder of one of the worlds leading martyrs for peace and justice, what better way to pay tribute to his sacrifice than with a 40 Hour King Assassination Moratorium on Killing. A community, South L.A., and a city, Los Angeles, that can start and end 40 hours with not a single recorded murder is a community and a city that has shown that forty years later it can still embrace the message of peace and nonviolence that King preached and that ultimately cost him his life. Its a small gesture time wise, but a monumental feat human life wise.
The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, civil rights leaders, and family members of victims of violence call for a 40 Hour King Assassination Moratorium on Killing. It begins at 6.01 p.m., Friday, April 4, the exact time and date King was killed 40 years ago. It ends at 10.01 a.m., Sunday.
– The Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable also will host a 40th Anniversary King Assassination Dialogue on Violence Roundtable on Saturday, April 5. Community leaders, elected officials, law enforcement are invited to dialogue on specific initiatives that the community can implement to reduce murder violence.