As we take the day to honor the legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recent events are stark reminders that we have not reached the mountaintop where "all God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands." Today is a cause not for celebration but for mourning. More than 50 years later, it seems that we have chipped away at Dr. King's efforts to get a foothold on the dream.
From Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner to "Je suis Charlie," Dr. King's dream is yet a dream for most. In America, many have fooled themselves into believing that having an African-American president has eradicated racism and prejudice. Racial slurs and innuendos against the president persist. Even high-ranking politicians have been caught being racially derogatory toward the president and the first lady. Comments about chicken and watermelon, Hottentots, and being "less classically beautiful" surround the president and celebrities of color. Yet they are shrugged off as mistakes or misunderstandings. Sony executives made racially charged jokes about the president. Shonda Rhimes put it best when she tweeted, "Calling Sony comments 'racially insensitive remarks' instead of 'racist'? U can put a cherry on a pile of sh*t but it don't make it a sundae."
Despite years of separate and unequal treatment of minorities, particularly African Americans and Latinos, by law enforcement and the justice system, many Americans still assume that our justice system is fair and balanced. My experience as an African-American woman and lawyer has not led me to trust the justice system I took an oath for. To ensure justice, good legal representation is a must. If you cannot afford one, then may God have mercy on your soul, because you are guilty until you prove otherwise in the court of public opinion that constitutes your jury. I chronicled my encounters with those who were supposed to serve and protect me in "What Ever Happened to 'Officer Friendly' Ferguson?" The decisions of grand juries in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases highlight the brokenness of our legal justice system. Paraphrasing another attorney, how do we punish impunity and judge discretion to create balance in our justice system?
Dr. King and the honorable Thurgood Marshall fought to reverse separate-but-equal laws that fractured our public education system. Unfortunately, years later educational equity has not been attained. The public-school system has failed our children. One study stated, "Unless we move with urgency, today's young people will be the first generation in American history to be less educated than their predecessors."
In the U.S., radical Christians advocate killing Muslims as patriotic and godly yet condemn radical Muslims who use the same rhetoric. In the words of Dr. King, "Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will." Today's churches are as politically and racially polarized as in Dr. King's days. In his "Letter From Birmingham Jail," Dr. King said:
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. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
In Paris, world leaders from various ethnic, religious, and political backgrounds stood with France to let terrorists know that despite our differences, we are united for freedom against terrorism. American pundits and politicians spent much energy blaming the White House for a lack of U.S. presence. That was warranted. However, nothing prevented those same critics from flying to Paris. There was no American presence at the Paris march. Yet many American politicians used it for political leverage. I believe that had Dr. King been alive, instead of criticizing the White House, he would have been standing with other world leaders in Paris, as he did in Selma and at the March on Washington.
No, this is not a day of celebration, because we have yet to realize Dr. King's dream that all men and women are created equal and are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The middle class is evaporating, and the gap between rich and poor widens. The Occupy Wall Street movement showed how the American dream has become less attainable for our children. #BlackLivesMatter, #ICantBreathe, #OWS, and #JeSuisCharlie are all reminders that we have not reached the mountaintop.