I have a dream and it’s that on Monday, the federal holiday honoring the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., nobody gets shot or stabbed.
Not another battered woman caught up in a domestic nightmare.
And certainly not another innocent child.
Designated in 1994 as a national day of service, the holiday is supposed to be used “as a day on, not a day off.” In other words, you’re not supposed to just hang around the house. The goal is to get involved in service projects, which is noble. However, this year, I would like to suggest that another component be added to the annual recognition, and it’s that it also be observed as a day of peace.
Think about what that might mean. For one day, the gunfire that rings out so regularly in battle-scarred neighborhoods would be silenced. Disputes that otherwise might lead to gun battles would be put on hold. It would be so quiet on the night of Jan. 20 that local media outlets would have nothing but good news to report the following day.
It sounds far-fetched, especially given Philadelphia’s surging homicide rate. Already, the city is on track to have an even bloodier year than 2019. The previous weekend, during a single 48-hour period, seven people were killed and 12 others wounded by gunfire, including an 18-month-old boy who was grazed by a bullet.
What’s happening in the streets here and elsewhere is symptomatic of the ills that King spent his too-short life pushing back against: the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism.
“The gun violence does not happen absent of the structural inequality,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
I asked him how King would have addressed gun violence.
“King would be concerned, for sure, but he would work toward addressing the economic injustice that creates the despair,” said Lassiter. “He would not cast blame, but he would speak to the conditions that create the social misery.”
In other words, he would see beyond skin color and go at the root cause of violence.
“So much of what bedevils the black community globally, especially in America, is around opportunity,” the Rev. Marshall Mitchell of Salem Baptist Church pointed out. “Opportunity creates hope. Preparation creates confidence. We are now 40 years into a brand of leadership that has not created opportunities for many other than the sons and daughters of the black connected and elite. Little energy and real grit has been directed toward chronically poor blacks. Is it any wonder that they are left to self-destruction in the shadows of Philadelphia’s immense, rising wealth.”
“Three black mayors and dozens of elected officials later, hundreds of millions of dollars in church construction, and we are still at a formative stage in so many ways,” Mitchell added. “Is it any wonder that self-hatred is manifesting itself in an orgy of black violence?”
Violence, hopefully, that can be paused for one day.
It’s a start. And it’s possible.
I know I’m just a newspaper columnist with an idea.
But years ago, I was a Howard University student who demonstrated outside the U.S. Capitol for a day that would be set aside in honor of King. I don’t remember how many years I went. I do recall being cold and bopping along to Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday,” which he’d written in honor of King. At the time, what we were agitating for seemed like a pipe dream. Then, in 1983, President Ronald Reagan reluctantly signed the bill into law, making the commemoration a federal holiday.
We had won.
If King’s life taught us anything, it’s that a lot can happen if you only dream. So, on Monday, put the guns down.
It’s a small thing to do in memory of a man who did so much.