Editor-in-Chief comments on state of country ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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Graphic Illustration by Blake Loria

Even though Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. died 52 years ago, on April 4, 1968, his message of hope and tolerance altered America’s culture and helped unify the country. In November of 1983, MLK Day was signed into law as a federal holiday by President Ronald Reagan. However, the U.S. still seems to be divided by racial politics and injustices. Thirty-seven years after the creation of the day meant to honor the civil rights hero, Editor-in-Chief Blake Loria looks to King’s words and actions for insight into 2021 America.

Every year, on the third Monday of January, America observes Martin Luther King Jr. Day–a federal holiday to honor the life of the civil rights leader. Throughout grade school and into secondary school, we are taught the importance of the minister in American politics and his efforts to progress change in the minds of Americans.

While the teachings about King are ever-lasting in the minds of school children across America, the country is far from the unified nation portrayed by schools of which King dreamed. Even those ignorant to the intricacies of the life and death of King know some of his most powerful speeches and writings: From his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King’s impact on our country is not only undeniable, but also crucial for understanding the current state of the country.

King’s impact on our country is not only undeniable, but also crucial for understanding the current state of the country.”

— Blake Loria, Editor-in-Chief

One cannot help but draw comparisons of the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred during the summer of 2020. Following the death of George Floyd during his arrest on May 25, 2020, the country erupted into the biggest protests in U.S. history. According to The Washington Post, approximately 12 million-26 million people marched in a protest or other demonstration in 2020, a 12,900% increase–using the highest estimate–from the approximate 200,000 demonstrators at King’s classic “I Have a Dream” speech, which was given at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

And although the goal of the summer BLM protests were to fight against police brutality, many devolved into riots that ultimately hurt the communities the same protests were trying to help. To clarify, most demonstrations were peaceful, however, no one can substantially deny the truth that places such as Seattle, Wash. and Minneapolis, Minn. were hit with unhelpful, and indeed damaging displays from mobs. King was considered a radical in his time and was proud of it. From the words of King himself, justice too long delayed is justice denied. However, King’s staunch opposition to violence should be a guiding light for us all, whether opposed to the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and month-long lock downs, or protesting the deaths of people such as Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and George Floyd.

Violence is not the answer–and it never will be.

It is sad to see the country King loved and fought so hard to change devolve into racially divided groups with so much hate for each other. Realistically, much of America is not as divided as it seems. The political extremes are the loudest, and while walking around town, it is unlikely to run into a radical white supremacist or left-wing extremist. However, it is still sad to see the country known for freedom and diversity still struggle with police brutality and racial injustice while we should be unified and standing up together against this injustice.

In the long run, the political unease and violence will only hurt the BLM movement and worsen racial tensions in the U.S. A noble cause is now unbelievably divisive because of the actions of a few. Since June, support for the BLM movement has decreased from 67% to 55% among U.S. adults, according to the Pew Research Center. The main reason for this is because of the violence that arose from the month-long protests. King believed standing up to injustice was only viable if done so in a peaceful manner. At the core of his message is the idea of fighting back not with blood, but with moral grounding. An unintended consequence of the protests that goes unmentioned in the same groups claiming to fight for justice is the destruction of minority communities and businesses.

Earlier, I referenced a quote from King regarding justice and the lack of it in our country. Now, I end this article with a quote on a hopeful note. In February of 1968,  just two months before his assassination, King delivered a speech in Washington, D.C. saying, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” King was not only a martyr, but he also fundamentally shook America and contributed to changing our society for the better. Those denying the grievances of American minorities need to recognize and work toward fixing the issues in our country’s systems. But on the other hand, those claiming to fight for justice and instead seizing the opportunity to loot or cause further division through riots should be criminally punished. Everyone must be held accountable in a just society.

Although many may argue King’s death is a symbol of just how hateful America truly is and point out the many issues with not only America’s culture, but also its justice system and institutions, his dream did come true, to an extent. Even after his death, King inspires many, and his descendants remain active in fighting for civil rights.

Reflecting on the trials King dealt with and returning to his lessons and philosophy is how Americans should address our fundamental issues and fix them. America will remain united as long as everyone fights for the ideals taught to us about his fight for true freedom. Martin Luther King Jr. reformed our country to be better than it was when he was alive, and he can do it again with a focus on his teachings of love, empathy and justice.