Is there a connection between racism and war? Do racial and ethnic divisions in this country serve as subterfuge or diversion? Almost 50 years have passed since Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. If he were with us today what would he think? And what does the election of Donald Trump say about all of this?
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered a speech entitled, “A Time to Break Silence”. Marking a departure for King, the speech drew parallels between domestic policy and foreign policy – between racism and war.
Arguably his most powerful message, King was criticized for the speech’s content because he was critical of the United States’ support of undemocratic policies overseas and because he veered from his traditional “civil rights message”. On April 4, 1967 Dr. King delivered a speech from the pulpit of New York City’s Riverside Church that forever changed his life – exactly one year later, on April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was dead.
Many have said that that speech marked the turning point that ultimately led to King’s assassination. They maintain that as long as Dr. King stayed in the relatively benign civil rights lane, he didn’t pose a real threat to the growing hegemonic power structure in the United States. They say the moment King began to make connections between racism, militarism and world domination, he had to go.
In the years since MLK’s death, the NAACP and a few other groups have kept up a modicum of interest in civil rights. But there really hasn’t been a significant focus on the connections Dr. King made in that April 4, 1967 speech.
In a country that toots its horn around the globe as the beacon of freedom and democracy, the last 50 years have seen unprecedented growth in the prison-industrial complex, the militarization of our urban police forces, a new surveillance-industrial complex, militarized borders, private for-profit prisons and detention centers – all in the name of protecting our freedom?
Dr. King’s, “A Time to Break Silence” focused on the evils of a particular time and place addressing glaring inconsistencies in U.S. foreign policy. In 2008, David Bromwich wrote a brilliant analysis of King’s speech—he says the speech protests the command and deployment by Lyndon Johnson of almost unlimited violence against the people and the land of Vietnam for the declared purpose of protecting them from the menace of world communism.
“Protection” is the common thread that connects the evils King spoke of with today’s unprecedented growth in domestic surveillance, militarized police, and prisons run amok or what I like to call our security-industrial complex. I recently listened once again to Dr. King as he delivered that speech. You can hear it on YouTube here:
What struck me was that Dr. King almost laid bare the notion that racism is a racket. Not to say that racism doesn’t exist but that it’s continued existence serves an elite few.
In a similar assertion, Smedley Butler—a career military man who received 16 medals, five for heroism, and is one of 19 men to receive the Medal of Honor twice— wrote a book entitled, “War Is a Racket” because he felt that his years of experience showed him that American corporations and other imperialist motivations were behind our wars. He came to see through the PR campaigns that prime the public — that set the stage for war. After retiring from service, he became a popular activist, speaking at meetings organized by veterans, pacifists, and church groups.
No longer do we have a Cold War to justify our lust for military hardware and personnel. Instead, we’re fed a constant drumbeat of messages that serve to keep us afraid—afraid of terrorists, afraid of illegal aliens, afraid of rising crime rates? Interestingly, the three groups usually associated with these issues are black and brown folk. And what remedy are we offered to calm these fears? Well, more spending, of course.
The U.S. spends more on defense than the next seven highest spending countries COMBINED. The Department of Homeland Security, an agency that didn’t even exist before 9/11, now spends $40 billion a year. Unprecedented in human history, the growth of the U.S. prison system is costing Americans $182 billion a year according to a recent report published by the Prison Policy Initiative.
The New York Times recently published a chart showing the impact of the Trump administrations proposed national budget. As was seen during his campaign, Trump primed his base with fear mongering and with promises he’s unlikely to deliver on but his budget shows where his focus is (see chart embedded chart)..
The MLK Memorial in Washington, DC shows King looking off into the distance. The Washington Monument appears off in the distance. What does this symbolism say?
On April 4, 2017 the LA Progressive is co-sponsoring a community-wide justice revival. The event, “Acting in the Spirit of Dr. King” includes a full program honoring the 50th year anniversary of Dr. King’s “A Time to Break Silence” speech. Included in the program is a panel discussion that addresses the connection between the racial and ethnic problems in the United States and our role on the international stage. We’ll also address steps that can be taken to move further down the road towards true equality.
This event is open to the public. We’d like to see as many of you as possible there.
What: A Community-Wide Justice Revival and Rally
When: Tuesday, April 4th at 7 pm.
Where: Macedonia Baptist Church, 1755 East 114th Street, Los Angeles
Organizers: Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity • Justice Not Jails