Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior: A Lost American Value

Posted on January 20, 2013 by John Bailey

WPCNR THE BIG EXTRA. News & Comment by John F. Bailey. January 20, 2020:

I wrote this column 16 years ago in 2004. It still stands relevant today, Even more so.

This is also the day the American “Reichstad”–the U.S. Congress prepares to go through the motions of the impeachment trial tomorrow, with the possibilty if they acquit the impeachee, of turning America into a “malevolent dictatorship.”

Today is, ironically, 10 days before the day the German Chancellor Paul Von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor in 1933, to appease the Nazi Party paving the way for Hitler to become supreme ruler of Germany.

What fascinates me about this column, which I update every year is how much conditions have changed since I wrote it sixteen years ago.

It is a change that fills me with a great melancholy and dread for what used to be America. Martin Luther King Jr.’s America

This morning at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in White Plains, the man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is being remembered.

I am not that familiar with Dr. King’s life, but I do know that he, like other great men of America who have their days, Dr. King’s name stands for a value that America used to hold dear — or we like to think we did.

Today, more than ever his values are trashed by the President, made a mockery of.

George Washington stands for honesty. 

Abraham Lincoln for freedom

Columbus for discovery,

Dr. King’s name stands for Opportunity.

Let me add to that fairness. Compassion. A willingness to help and recognize wrong.

What would Dr. King say if he addressed the group at the Crowne Plaza today?

What would he say tomorrow, (if he were alive) to the U.S. Congress as the impeachment trial begins? That would be a speech to remember

About foreclosures, shamefully low passing grades on achievement tests for persons of color and who do not speak English well, Unemployment in a “growing” economy? Millions of youths without jobs, and robber baron bankers and utility companies paying dividends to shareholders made possible by the taxpayers, and the rollback of regulations enacted in 2010 in the Dodd-Frank act to stop them from cheating people again? Or the disgrace amendments Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives wrote into the Homeland Security Act that will if passed, ship 600,000 youths out of this country if the Senate does not block it? 

The shameless hatred for not only the first African-American President vilely espoused by politicians, community leaders and commentators who should know better. The fact that 60% of Democrats think it is time for a woman President while only 20% of Republicans think a woman should be President–the party of white man rule strikes again.

Leaders who would be leaders of this country standing for the death penalty; standing for no health care for the uninsured; standing for less regulation of the greediest, most corrupt businesses on earth — banks, finance companies, oil companies and international American corporations who ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for doing so; tax cuts for millionaires while refusing to vote extension of unemployment benefits and the debt ceiling? Local leaders who hire politically connected unqualified cronies to six-figure jobs to do minimal “work.”

You know what he’d say, don’t you? I can hear him now. But I cannot because someone shot him in 1968, since then no African-American or Latino-American or white man or woman has stepped forward to fill his voice.

When I think of Dr. King, I think of the Selma marches, I think of Birmingham, I think of Little Rock, Arkansas, where he lead the African-American community in demonstrations asking for the right of equal opportunity in America: a seat on a bus wherever they chose; a restaurant or hotel of their choice; the right to apply for a job without being turned down because you were black. Blatant in-your-face-discrimination was publicized by Dr. King and America was shown it was not right. It took fearlessness to do that.

And he did it without violence. Just by the force of saying what was right.

Who today has that fearlessness that Dr. King and his followers showed all of America? “Leaders” so critical of teachers and education, that they want to help by cutting education aid and expenditures, while at the same time giving giveaways to business. Pay pensions to retired educators when they take other full-time jobs in education and do not “fix” things. And business leaders so greedy they ask for refunds on their taxes so they can make even more profit.

Where are the black and Latino and white, yes white leaders and journalists of today who will stand up and point these outrages out? (Other than the crusaders Frank Bruni, Paul Krugman, Michelle Goldberg, Russ Douthat and Charles Blow.)

Are there any?

Dr. King did. He stood up. That cost him his life.

Today, subtle discrimination denying equal opportunity, denying education, exploiting the poor, foreclosing instead of adjusting, and making settlements with rogue banks that make them even more profitable, and guaranteeing less opportunity are the evils that Dr. King, had he lived, would be attacking today.

When I write those sentences I just wrote, it seems incomprehensible to me that someone would deny another person that.

When you think about it, it is an awful situation to think about. In the 52 years since Dr. King was murdered, the nation had come a long way in breaking down the visible barriers of racism based on creed and the color of one’s skin.

Today the hatred of people of color, immigrants, refugees promulgated by far too many congressman and persons in this country is back with a vengence.

Today, though, the language one speaks and where you are from are the prejudices practiced today. And in the 8 years of President  Obama’s presidency the edgy, putting down of Mr. Obama because of the color of his skin was sickening and you hear it every day from white members of congress, from congresspeople from the south. It is disgusting.

It is small. They could not shine Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s shoes.

But the hate and prejudice are out there–espoused daily on talk shows–and anti-race rhetoric being defended? It confounds me. The rhetoric I have heard from both parties the last six months has turned my stomach for lack of purpose.

The education establishment continues to favor the English-speaking, the wealthied, and the well-situated.

The White Plains district is 57% Hispanic students. You need more dual language instruction, not less. You need young enthusiastic, bilingual teachers to step in now, as many as possible. Instead, the brain dead tax cap law that the numbers-challenged New York State legislature put in place is going to force cuts like you will not comprehend and it will come at the expense of the younger teachers.

Dr. King would point his finger at every person in that room Monday and say they should be ashamed for sacrificing the futures of those who have no futures unless we help them.

And you know what? That’s who they do not want to help.

There are too many in Washington D.C. who want to throw them out of the country.

We had a County Executive stand up before George Latimer took office at this time and say we had to drop the mandates for pre-school education. Cut state mandates for health care. Cut pensions. And that county executive increased the amount folks had to pay for day care. The same County Executive who never met a political operative who wasn’t a great addition to the county payroll. (And you know who they were.)

Today the barriers to Equal Opportunity are not subtle any more.

The hate of the poor, the non-English speaking is now fashionable and draws cheers in nationally televised debates. The USA puts children in concentration camps. Keep in cages. And let them die. The USA separates children from the parents at the border.

That is not my America. It is not Dr. King’s America. He would not stand for it today.

That is not right.

We learned four years ago just how badly education in New York has overstated education achievement with blacks, Hispanics and whites all being equally unprepared at the 9th grade level with the exception of the students whose parents are deeply involved with their children

Barriers still exist: in the classroom. There is reluctance to deliver quality education to the black and Hispanic populations in America today, just as there was sixteen years ago.

The only reason there is a concentrated effort to do so were the state achievement tests. Now the dismal results after the tests were made easier are being ignored by educators as not being good measurements of how students are really learning).

The feckless New York Legislature has washed their hands of the achievement tests not even calling hearings to find out why the tests failed.

That act of negligence by the legislture this year shows the shame of our education programs for minorities and whites as well. New York admitted its scores on achievement tests the last 10 years were curved way low — meaning that strides in closing the achievement gap between whites and minorities were not strides at all

What would Dr. Martin Luther King say about that education disgrace if he were speaking at the Crowne Plaza Monday morning?

Plenty.

The horror is that locally many school districts (with the exception of Port Chester) knew the curve was low. They knew it.

Efforts to address the achievement gap were overblown. They lied to thousands of concerned minority parents. They would say they did want to alarm them. But they were simply lying. Telling us they were doing a good job when they were doing a lousy job.

I wrote about this for the last 16 years, but no one paid attention. We still after 6 months do not have a Commissioner of State Education. The Regents Board has not been replaced for incompetence.

The press ignored the low standards for passing grades. They did not even bother finding out what they were.

On the other hand, there is the perception elsewhere that because your name and skin color are different, you automatically need help and are slow-tracked into remedial classes; the inclusion of the slower (read minority) children in one corner of a classroom so you can deal with the “problem children”

In the last ten years the products of this subtle but unequal educational opportunity have been well documented and given a name: The Achievement Gap. Well we now know the acheivement gap is now an achievement canyon.

The educational establishment invests millions in studies to find solutions to it and they have learned a lot about it. It takes more School District heads to stand up and say like Dr. King, “we simply are not going to educate half the population any more.”

The lagging of minority youth is blamed on the home and family breakdown. Well then you have to bring more attention to the family unit and those youngsters’ home environment, putting the education in there. It’s expensive but if you want to bridge the Achievement Canyon you have to do that.

The argument that you have to speak English in the schools and learn through English is racial superiority.

Of course you have to learn to speak English, but really, Bilingual education is how we English-speakers learn another language. Port Chester achieved this — and WPCNR pointed this out to the White Plains School Board years ago. Why is this new?

It is time to stop the subtle prejudice that we do not want non-English speaking children in our towns and schools because they are too hard to educate and will cost us money to do that. They are children, you simply cannot throw  them away because they do not speak English, or come from another country seeking asylum. And we certainly should not put them in cages, like we are doing at this very moment on the U.S. border.

This discrimination Dr. Martin Luther King would find hard to take. Ears would be ringing Monday morning.

 He would bristle at lowering standards for minorities, because he would see right through that argument, saying:

“When are you going to raise the standards for my people? Because you don’t have to work any harder at educating them, if you do not raise your expectations for them.”

I think Dr. King would look around and withering voice would cry out how Blacks and Whites, Hispanics and Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and other races are suffering inexplicable hate attacks.

If he was alive today, he would be 91 years old. Where would be be tomorrow?

He perhaps a little stooped and silver haired would be on the steps of the Capitol Building leading thousands in a silent condemnation of our gutless Congress as the impeachment trial begins.

With a long pointed finger he would point to each member of the Senate and the Chief Justice Roberts, the See Nothing, Say Nothing, Hear Nothing, Have No Reason Senators and in blistering dignity would say:

“When will you let the children go? When will you remove the rule of hate from our American Land that you have brought back? When will you stop ignoring the wrong this evil has done? When will you uphold the Constitution? Have you no shame he would point to each Democrat and Republican. (If any of them had the courage to walk in the front door of the Capitol Building.)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would never let the Republican candidates and the Democratic leadership in Washington get away with the prejudiced stereotyping of the hungry, the poor, America’s illegal residents that I have heard the last year

He, in measured tones would demand we be more appreciative and respectful of each other– again with concern about the confrontation rhetoric

But, I do not think he would like today’s buzz word :”diversity” and our smugness about our diversity.

He would say that’s nice, but let’s keep our eye on the prize, to borrow the wonderful motto of the White Plains Department of Public Safety, let us treat all with integrity, professionalism, respect, and to that add opportunity.

Now, let’s think how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would handle the present illegal housing situation in White Plains

I believe Dr. Martin Luther King would take organizations in this town that circulate lists of rooming houses (without inspecting them for overcrowding), and call them out, if he were in White Plains today.

He’d stand up there tomorrow morning and read a list of homes and distribute it personally to the Mayor and say — clean up this disgrace.

He would march through the homes where the overcrowding is and be arrested with plenty of cameras showing the disgrace of the housing the Uriah Heeps of this town have created.

No one does that here.

Dr. King was not only politically incorrect, but politically uncooperative. THAT’S WHY HE WAS KILLED.

He’d bring the unsafely housed with him to breakfast Monday morning and introduce them all around to the rich and the powerful and the well-connected and show them the people whom they are treating like cruel political pawns by our leaders on the county and the city level – all over this county — just so political contributers are protected.

Maybe he’d bring some Latin Kings and Bloods with him too. That would be interesting.

He’d read off the certiorari refunds given back corporations that do quite well and filed for them anyway.

He’d ask the illegally housed to tell their stories at his breakfast. He’d prey for compassion from us the wealthy, the powerful and the “decent,” and the respectable to have compassion for the weak, the misdirected, the addicted and disturbed, and the mortgage-ravaged.

He’d bring the foreclosees and those forced out of their homes and those whose mortgages were turned down, and graduates burdened with debt from education loans, and ask those bankers, brokers, and realtors in the audience on the dais and at the tables — how could you not help them out?

He’d ask every banker there to pledge how many mortgages they’d make in the next month, and the next month and so on.

He’d ask White Plains leaders to accept the responsibility of leadership and by reaching out personally to the homeless, the illegally housed, the unemployed youth to provide them meals and, perhaps jobs during the day, to welcome them in to White Plains somehow. To help them make a new start in White Plains in a firehouse, a church, or a vacant hospital. To challenge businesses to weave these persons into the fabric of the downtown, instead of telling them they are not welcome.

He’d challenge us to step up our humanity, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did when no one else would 60 years ago.

He’d shame the two governments, county and city, for not treating the immigrants, the foreclosees, the homeless, the union members with simple human respect and adhering to the constitution, which prohibits you from being jailed for no reason – a policy incredulously being pushed by politicians who should read the constitution just once to reset their minds.

And please, he would say, give the new no bail law a chance to work out.

He’d ask White Plains to rise up and forgive the persons with the prison records who have done their time, and find jobs for them and through forgiveness, and respect for them, Melt away the English-challenged persons’ suspicions and resentments. 

And about our gangs:

Dr. Martin Luther King would go out to the streets of White Plains, Greenburgh, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Port Chester, New Rochelle, Peekskill – the cities where gang activity has been reported – and speak to them about where they are going. It is difficult to say Dr. King would say to the gang members of our area.

But he would be in their faces.

But, I assure you he’d be in their midst confronting this problem and admitting it exists.

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Monday. Ask ourselves what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would think of the way we have treated the less fortunate? What he would think about how we have “reached out?”

Would he approve of the way we are working with our youth, our Hispanic population, about how dollars are being used to make unsafe housing safe and why it cannot be policed better, about how dollars are being spent in school districts whether on educating people or creating buildings or stadiums; how dollars are being spent by organizations supposedly helping the afflicted, and how they are really doing, and what are they doing with the dollars.

He’d excoriate the variable and below prime mortages now being foreclosed as a new form of financial redlining invented by the financial establishment to exploit. He’d ridicule the efforts of the government to “save” gazillion-dollar financial institutions while allowing homeowners to lose their houses.

He’d shame the banks now refusing to give mortgages to many. He’d point out the hypocrisy of holding students to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, while giving away money to Wall Street, the banks, and oil companies

He’d save particular scorn for the bloated banks paying dividends to shareholders while foreclosing on persons who have lost their jobs. Where is the outcry of leaders of any stripe today on THAT outrage?

Would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. approve?

He’d remind us that Jesus Christ chose to minister to the “hardcore” of his time. He went into their midst. He healed them and made them fishers of men.

The way to honor Dr. King Monday is to honor the afflicted, help the troubled with dignity, not humiliate them, not shun them, not “throw  them out.”

The way Dr. King would view our world today? He’d observe that “we need work.”

That the lynchings and the shutting of school doors are gone, but the attitudes remain.

He’d point that out with his long finger pointing right at us.

He’d say, “I still have a dream.”

He’d be pointing his finger at the double-standard of justice for the minority youth and the wealthy institutions that exists today.

He’d be calling upon all to keep our eyes on the prize and not on the power, the prestige, and the people who would steer us away from what needs to be done.

We need to make the comfortable uncomfortable, and comfort the afflicted.

Dr. Martin Luther King was cut down by a gutless assassin at age 39.

Think how different we would be today as a country if he had lived these previous 52 years.

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