Police Won’t Stop Killing Black People. When Will We Say Enough?
I love Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I love every speech he made, and I revisit them often. I love his movement of radical love and his quest for us all to build The Beloved Community. Like many white, suburban, middle-class, Americans, I learned about Dr. King in high school, where we were essentially presented with a historical narrative of, “Once upon a time in America, there was slavery. Then the Civil War happened. Then something called “Jim Crow” happened. Then Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream, and racism was solved. The end.” Yes, that is an exaggeration, but it’s not that far off from reality.
I know that racism did not end in the 1960’s. This should not be a radical statement, but in 2023 white America, it kinda is. It didn’t end with Obama being elected President either, but I digress. While attending a church service in the early 2000’s, the pastor of my church talked about Dr. King, and shared some quotes of his I had never heard before, and she drew parallels between Dr. King and Jesus that had never been presented to me before. I decided immediately to begin educating myself and got every book I could get my hands on by or about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and ‘60’s. I was floored at how relevant his speeches still were. Here I was at the time, living in a suburb of New York City, in the early 2000’s, reading A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (King Estate, 2001), and all I kept thinking was how little things had truly changed, and how King’s powerful words were sadly, just as relevant then (and now) as they were when they were delivered forty and fifty years earlier.
I wanted to write about Dr. King this weekend. To honor him on his birthday. To share links to his speeches that made me think about racism in America, and my place as a white person in the movement to end oppression; fight for equity and justice; to be anti-racist, and to help end white supremacy. I also wanted to make a point to share some pictures of him that his daughter, Bernice King has shared on her Twitter page. Pictures that show him smiling, enjoying life — as a father, a husband, a friend, as well as a powerful civil rights leader and international icon. As a complete human. As just a regular man. It’s so easy to lose the humanity of a historical leader, especially a Black leader whose humanity has been warped and manipulated, whitewashed, and used to perpetuate the very systems he died fighting against.
When I looked up Dr. King’s birthday to confirm the exact date, I saw that he was born on January 15, 1929. My father was born on January 14, 1927. It had never occurred to me that my father and Dr. King were contemporaries. Dr. King had been murdered 5 years before I was born and was a historical figure to me. I simply never did the math. Here is more math I never did until I wrote this:
At the time of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, he had been married to his wife Coretta for just under 15 years. They had four children, ranging in age from 12 to 5 years old. Dr. King was 39 years old when he was murdered. He was shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, and transferred to a nearby hospital, where he died one hour later.
At the time of Dr. King’s assassination, my father was 41 years old, and he and my mother had been married for about 16 years. They had 9 children, ranging in age from about 14-years-old to 1.5-years-old.
Unlike Dr. King, my father got to go on and have another child (me); run a successful business; retire; watch all of his children grow up; walk many of his daughters down the aisle at their weddings and enjoy 18 grandchildren. He got to die at the age of 80 peacefully at his home with his wife and many of his children by his side.
Another Black man lost his life after an encounter with the police. Keenan Anderson was murdered by LAPD on January 3rd of this year, but new bodycam footage was shared recently, showing a violent encounter with police who tasered him multiple times, once for as long as 30-seconds. He died of cardiac arrest in the hospital 4.5 hours after his arrest. This follows two other murders of men of color by the LAPD in just the first few days of January.
Keenan Anderson was 31 years old. He was a teacher and had a young child of his own, who is under the age of five.
In 2020, we all watched in horror as (now incarcerated and former) police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, killing him.
Floyd was 46 years old and had five children when he was killed.
Maybe if I share their ages and the number of children they had, we will begin to see these people as more than historical figures or hashtags and begin to identify with them as human beings who we have something in common with and are connected to, even if it begins with just an age or the fact that they had children?
White people in America supposedly went through a racial reckoning in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. We read books and spoke about race in ways we hadn’t in decades — if ever. We began to understand racism as systemic and pervasive in ways we had not truly comprehended before. Then many of us just stopped reading, thinking, conversing, learning, and trying.
When are we — my fellow white friends and family, finally going to rip the collective veil of white supremacy off of our eyes once and for all and end this nightmare? How many more Black men are going to have to suffer violence or die on camera before we say, “No More!”?
We cannot celebrate Dr. King’s birthday today — we cannot laud his actions and quote his words and continue to allow people like him and Keenan Anderson (and Breonna Taylor, and Sandra Bland, and Duante Wright, and Atatiana Jefferson, and on and on and on) to die violent deaths at too young an age.
Dr. King may not have been blatantly murdered by police, but the FBI ran a fierce smear campaign against him, and in a civil suit in 1999, “…a Memphis jury ruled that the local, state and federal governments were liable for King’s death.”
When are we going to let men like Dr. King and Keenan Anderson die peacefully in their homes, surrounded by their loved ones, after living a long life, like my dad got to do?
“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from his oft-misquoted and rarely completely read “I Have a Dream” speech, 1963.