For this year’s national holiday celebrating the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., all of the speeches, marches, singing and rallies have to somehow have roots in Ferguson, Mo.
It’s because a year ago Michael Brown was very much alive to celebrate the holiday for the civil rights leader, who was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. Also alive last year were Eric Garner and Tamir Rice.
Many cities in the nation, including Kansas City, erupted in rioting after King was shot to death for his work in the 1950s and 1960s to get America to extend constitutional rights to people of color. That struggle from events after the deaths of Brown, Garner and Rice continue.
Rioting followed King’s death with people outraged that someone would kill the Nobel Peace Prize winner and black civil rights leader. When I was a kid and young adult growing up in St. Louis, that city never experienced rioting, looting, burnings or confrontations with police or the National Guard during the civil rights movement.
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That was a hot topic then in the black community, where I grew up. I only remember participating with my family and hundreds of others in a peaceful, prayerful march in 1968 after King’s death.
But the St. Louis area did repeatedly erupt in unrest last year after then-Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Brown on Aug. 9. Brown was no King. However, he did represent a recurring civil rights problem of too many African American males being killed by white police officers. People of color are saying in unending protests that such slayings must end.
Also last year, 43-year-old Eric Garner on July 17 died at the hands of New York City police. His death was captured on a cellphone video with Garner repeatedly saying as police wrestled him to the ground using a chokehold, “I can’t breathe.”
Also in Cleveland, police on Nov. 22 fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, two seconds after arriving and seeing the preteen with a pellet gun. A newly released surveillance video shows that the officers also stood by afterward giving no medical aid to the wounded boy, but then tackled his 14-year-old sister as she tried to go to her brother. Police handcuffed the girl and put her in their patrol car.
Justice Department investigations are ongoing in the slayings of Brown and Garner. People have pinned their hopes on the outcome.
In the slayings of Brown and Garner, grand juries decided against charging the police officers involved in the black men’s deaths. After the grand jury decision in the Ferguson killing, the St. Louis suburb again erupted in unrest despite the best efforts by police and the governor to prevent it.
Mostly peaceful marches followed the grand jury decision in Garner’s death. As when King was alive, thousands of people in multiracial crowds nationwide and in Kansas City have continued to march, hold rallies and demonstrate, chanting “black lives matter.”
Like King, they continue to press for the constitutional ideals for all people in America. That must include the end of racial profiling of people of color with the disproportionate, unjustified police stops and searches of African Americans and Latinos. The unwarranted killings and assaults also must end.
This King holiday has to mark the beginning of improved relations between the police and communities of color. As when King was alive, the speeches, rallies and marches must push for greater voter and civic participation and the end of segregation of all kinds.
Discrimination also must be vanquished and in its place opportunity must grow in massive barren fields of education, employment, health care and civic engagement. King would want it that way.
It’s the only way that America with its growing diversity can continue to be great.