We stumble into Black History Month 2023 with yet another police murder of an unarmed black man, Tyre Nichols, accompanied by neo-fascist assaults on the truthful teaching of black history, and purely performative responses to police violence by national political (so-called) “leaders.”
The celebrated Rev. Martin Luther King wrote “A Testament of Hope” in 1968, a time of momentous nationwide turmoil and only shortly before his own murder. King’s formulation of “hope” included these powerful words –
“The black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws – racism, poverty, militarism and materialism. It is exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”
Where is that revolution today? Where are we in facing up to our deep and deepening flaws, let alone in the radical reconstruction of society required to root out the systemic evils of racism, poverty, militarism and materialism? Protests against these evils, where they occur, are generally localized, and rapidly fizzle in face of government (police) repression. The national uprising that followed the killing of George Floyd in 2020 is evidently not to be replicated, however justifiable in light of continued police violence. Indeed, instead of moving forward in the quest for justice, we appear to be falling backward, teetering blindly on the edge of a downward spiral from which there may be no recovery.
Some – notably Florida under the prod of wanna-be-president Gov. DeSantis, with a host of other red states closely watching his moves – seem committed to forging a new way forward through the imposition of authoritarian social controls, and especially control over education and compelling the institution of a dominant historically sanitized narrative of American greatness. More on the grave threat this poses to genuine progress in another post.
But surely our national Democratic leaders are demanding justice and accountability in face of ongoing police violence (most of it directed disproportionately toward black and other non-white people), promising, if not radical societal overhaul, at least meaningful and measurable public safety reform? Distressingly, not so. On the contrary, President Biden and the national Democratic party leadership have thrown in with the police rather than the people they violate, showering new resources (including disappearing pandemic relief funds) on police at every opportunity.
Contrast Dr. King’s stirring message of “hope” linked with “radical reconstruction,” on the one hand, and on the other Biden’s hollow distortion of that message, voiced in his January 2022 speech in Atlanta honoring King – “The point is: There’s hope. There’s always hope. We have to believe. And, ladies and gentlemen, that was Dr. King’s path, in my view – the path of keeping the faith – and it must be our path. Folks, for God’s sake, this the United States of America. The United States. Nothing is beyond our capacity.”
Nothing, in the way of change, is exactly what we’re getting.