It was 50 years ago this week that the United States lost one of the great leaders of the past century. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
While our nation has made significant advances in the years since his death—including electing the nation’s first African American president—and some things have changed, others have remained the same or, during the past few years, gotten worse.
One can imagine what King might have to say about the mass shootings that have plagued our nation during the past two decades. This week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law a bill that would prevent domestic abusers from purchasing or owning firearms. This is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, our leaders in Congress are not considering such commonsense steps to protect our children from mass shootings. In fact, virtually the only people displaying any courage right now are children.
One might also imagine King’s reaction to the breakdown in civility between elected officials and voters. In the 1950s and 1960s, King marched and eventually died in the battle against bigotry in the United States. In 2018, we have a president who demeans immigrants and calls participants in a white nationalist rally “very fine people.” In Alabama, a man accused of molesting underage girls just barely lost a race for U.S. senator, while in Illinois the GOP candidate for a congressional seat is a Holocaust denier whom the state’s Republican Party itself has called a “Nazi.”
New York is often viewed as a progressive state, but the NYPD has reported that hate crimes—especially those of an anti-Semitic nature—have been on the rise during the past two years.
To honor MLK’s legacy, city and state leaders should continue to find ways to strengthen laws that protect the vulnerable, but also to take every opportunity to speak out against those who are fanning the flames of hatred.
History will harshly judge both those who spread intolerance and those who stand on the sidelines.