I’ve been thinking a lot about Martin Luther King Jr. and justice in the last few days. About what the country lost with his murder. About the incredible sense that he “knew” what was about to happen to him the night before. About how his words and his yearning for justice continue to resonate so powerfully 53 years after his sermon in Ebeneezer Baptist Church April 3, 1968, and his assassination April 4 on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
I almost shared this tweet with all of you here on Monday. But I hesitated because I began to think about the connections with the murder of George Floyd and the murderous insurrection of Jan. 6, incited by the occupant of the White House.
It’s no special insight to say the United States is a violent country, and that gun violence continues to haunt our lives and lay waste to the promise of so many thousands of Americans ever year. Violence touches every segment of our society, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight, young and old, educated and not.
But it’s the expectation that justice is provided to some of us and not others—that if you’re poor or Black or powerless that you can’t count on equal protection under the law and equal opportunity for justice to be served—that continues to eat away at me. I wish it was something that ate away at everyone.
As Dr. King put it so eloquently in his April 16, 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
It’s a lesson which too many of us have yet to learn. It’s a lesson that depends on compassion and empathy, the capacity to recognize that we are our brother’s keeper, the willingness to step outside of our own skin and really care, the recognition that real justice is not an ideal but a necessity if we are ever going to be whole.
Perhaps you’ve read that half of Republicans now believe that the deadly insurrection was largely non-violent and was manipulated by left-wing agitators to “make Trump look bad.” I can barely write this now, let alone fully comprehend how sickening this narrative is as a denial of reality. Put this aside as an expression of the continuing power of the Trump cult—the deeper fact is that far too many of our fellow citizens don’t care about justice, even when the crime leads to the assault and murder of police officers, or an average citizen in Minneapolis.
Let’s say it again: “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”
Which brings me back to the murder of George Floyd:
As various people have rightly noted, the conviction of George Floyd’s killer depends on the jury deciding that Chauvin’s act crossed the line from acceptable use of force to murder; it’s not the jury’s responsibility to judge the history of racial injustice and determine they must make right this wrong. But I fear the damage an innocent verdict will cause among all those who hope that the arc of history may now be bending toward justice.
And as it is with George Floyd, so it is with the perpetrators and inciters of January 6.
Let me end with the hopeful words of Martin Luther King and the video shared by his daughter, Bernice.