This will be a sad fact to consider, but in case the news passed by unnoticed, here’s the attention it warrants — for better or worse.
On the very same day that the people of this city and nation — many of them at least — were honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and the message of equality and non-violence he preached, violence was in fact occurring not two blocks from the office of The Record.
According to reports by Louisville Metro Police and several local media outlets, while a celebration honoring Dr. King was taking place at the Cathedral of the Assumption, and others were occurring at places of worship and at agencies that serve the poor, four young men walked up to another youngster — a teen-aged boy — and shot him in the chest. (So far the incident has resulted in two arrests.)
A police spokesperson said the boy’s family claimed they didn’t recognize any of the four, one of whom was the shooter. And, thank goodness, hospital reports indicate that the gunshot wasn’t life-threatening.
But what a juxtaposition.
At venues across town, people were recalling Dr. King’s message of peace, equality and non-violence. Yet on a city street, a group of young people — no doubt oblivious to the history of Dr. King or the power of his message — were doing exactly what he preached against.
There may be more to this story than the first reports indicated. Perhaps there was some familiarity between the shooter and the victim; perhaps there was an as yet unexplained grievance that, as so often happens, someone thought could best be settled with one of society’s omnipresent guns.
But whatever the reason for the shooting, it remains such a dichotomy to the holiday.
If ever we could spend just 24-hours without someone shooting someone else in our city; without an expressway driver making an obscene gesture to another over some assumed slight or threat to “traffic supremacy.” If we could but go a single day without a fist fight, without a shouting-our-lungs-out argument, without a shooting or stabbing or bludgeoning, then we could at least see the impact of Dr. King’s words for just a while.
For those words, many of them eloquent and profound beyond the “I Have a Dream” speech, deserve at least a moment of respect. You’d think we should at least be able to get through Martin Luther King Day without somebody shooting somebody.
But apparently we can’t, and as sad and depressing as that realization is, we can look to some lesser-known speeches by Dr. King and renew our spirits for a while. Until the next Newtown massacre; the next theater shooting; the next Virginia Tech or Columbine or other tragic scene of mass violence now known by a single name.
We should remember, given our more than four decades of hindsight now, that Dr. King was one of the first nationally-known voices to openly oppose the Vietnam War. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” he said in a speech recently reprised by CNN.
His own staff had asked him not to say those words. And now, having seen their prescience, we are left to wonder what he might have said after all this time about the foolishness of the Iraq War and the continuing morass of Afghanistan. What would he say about the continuing black-on-black violence, about the aforementioned mass killings, about the ever-present power of the National Rifle Association and our national unwillingness to reduce the obscene number of guns on America’s streets and in America’s households?
What would he have said about “Stand Your Ground” laws and about the widening chasm between the haves and the have-nots, not just in this country but all across the world?
His times were bad enough. He’d seen a president assassinated, and later that president’s brother was killed, too, after King’s own death-by-rifle set off waves of burning violence.* But just as Pope Francis has brought us messages of hope and encouragement, in his own violent times Dr. King reminded us that good will eventually triumph over evil.
Right will win out, though sometimes it’s difficult to see that potential victory from where we now stand.
“I come to say to you this afternoon,” he said in a 1965 speech, “that however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, ‘because truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever…’ How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
If we could only remember that the next time violence strikes. If we could only remember that in the halls of Congress the next time somebody proposes cutting benefits to poor people and children. If we could only remember that.
*Updated 2-4-14 — Because of an editor’s error, the editorial in the Jan. 28 edition of The Record mistakenly said Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated before the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis. In fact, it was the other way around.