Launching a non-violent America
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
— Matthew 26:52 (NIV)
Thirty years ago President Ronald Reagan grudgingly signed into law a bill from the U.S. Senate and House creating a federal holiday to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Only our first president, George Washington and Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus have U.S. holidays in their honor. The commemoration of Dr. King’s birthday honors not only a truly noble American, but the ideas for which he lived and died: equality, peace and justice for all, and the building of the cherished beloved community.
Thirty years later, as our nation observes the 27th anniversary of the MLK National Holiday, I can but wonder if the event is only window dressing. The parades and prayer breakfasts, songs and speeches, sermons and awards all seem so trite and trivial on a day when 45 Americans will tragically meet their maker by way of gun violence.
As I applaud the choir at the MLK gospel concert, I will reflect on the 12 killed and 58 wounded at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. As I march in the parade and wave at neighbors, I will remember the seven shot down in the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., last August.
While the preacher declares the virtues of love and brotherhood, I will memorialize the six slain and 19 wounded in the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that almost took the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. As I join hands with my brothers and sisters and sway from side to side Monday night while singing “We Shall Overcome,” I will think of the 26 victims of the Newtown, Conn., massacre.
These glaring examples of the atrocities of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man seem to overshadow our efforts to build the beloved community that Dr. King prophesied. How many murders does it take before we examine ourselves and priorities? A hundred? A thousand maybe? How about an average of 17,000 a year in the world’s last remaining super power?
If we really want to put teeth into the King Holiday, we must call on our lawmakers to do more than pontificate and pose in Raleigh and Washington, DC. We need to give peace a chance to prevail domestically by banning the manufacture, sale, and use of automatic and semi-automatic weapons and the cassettes and magazines that hold dozens of bullets. We can no longer remain quiet and maintain the status quo to appease powerful lobbies.
What Dr. King said at the funeral of three little girls killed by a bomb blast in Alabama in September 1963 could be a newspaper headline in 2013, “Our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim … we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.”
Our moral fiber is torn in two every time we hear about another senseless shooting and take no action. When Dr. King was assassinated, the nation was in an uproar. Cities went up in flames. Forty-five years later, let us not “become complacent and be lulled to sleep by the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” Let’s make the King Holiday the launching pad for a new non-violent America.
Dr. George B. Jackson is the founder and chairman of the Martin Luther King Social Action Committee.