Thoughts by Richard Bleil
In 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. I was five years old at the time. He was just 39.
When I think back on all that I learned about MLK in school, nothing comes up. Absolutely nothing. Maybe I was too close to the events. After all, we know how slowly schools change their books. Most of what I’ve learned of MLK is through stories and movies, but I do know that his protests were always violent and accomplished nothing.
They were violent because of the response. The protesters themselves were peaceful, and yet they faced water cannons, rubber bullets and being attacked by police dogs. They were engaging in free speech, presumably protected by the constitution except, sadly, they were the wrong color. I mean, imagine the audacity of being born with pigmentation that makes you not white! And yet they braved the arrests, the tear gas, the military-like response as they walked down the road.
Through their courage, they succeeded in great social change. Segregation came to an end. There was a law at the time that said that segregation was legal as long as all facilities had equivalent resources but looking at old photos of “whites only” items like drinking fountains next to “negro” shows the flaw in such nonsense. Yes, both had the general appearance of drinking fountains, but they were in no way equivalent as, typically, the “whites only” drinking fountains looked to be the only ones that are routinely cleaned and maintained.
They secured the Voting Rights Act in 1965 as part of the Civil Rights movement. Although technically minorities were given the right to vote in 1870 when the fifteenth amendment was ratified, states still suppressed the votes of minorities through local laws and regulation. These are known as the Jim Crow laws enacted between 1876 and 1965 to circumvent the fifteenth amendment.
Unfortunately, systemic racism is all too real in our society. Voter suppression laws continue to exist and be promoted, unfortunately, though, in a far more sinister and hidden manner. Today, these laws are hidden in the name of “honest elections” and involve gerrymandering, voting location closures and requiring “proof of identity”. While I don’t believe anybody would argue that there should not be protections to prevent fraudulent voting, the reality is that most of these laws disenfranchise minorities disproportionately resulting, in an obvious manner to anybody willing to see the truth, in voter suppression. Earlier I said the civil rights movement accomplished nothing; this is what I meant by that.
The reality is that because of systemic racism, it is important to continually fight for these rights, and it should not be so. The BLM protests opened the eyes of not just Americans, but of the entire world, to the disproportionate police brutality on minorities. Today, investigations are ongoing in the Capitol insurrection regarding fascist elements within the military and police.
The problem with white supremacists and racism is that it’s like glitter. Get one card with glitter in an office, and by the end of the day everybody carries sparkles home with them. It spreads, silently, not changing people obviously, at least not at first, but it taints everybody. It raises thoughts buried in their subconscious and begins to grow. Eventually it reaches a point where we have situations like a precinct in New York City where it had gotten so out of hand that they would “test” new transfers to be sure they have the “right” attitude. They would take the new people into a building and point out a minority and tell the new person to beat the individual. If the newbie did, they were in. If not, they were transferred out. I know that the precinct was dissolved because the racism was so ingrained, but what I don’t recall is hearing of any of the police being charged, or even being fired.
MLK had a dream about a world where all children could play together, without fear of retribution, regardless of skin color, religion, or any other segregating factor. His dream will never come true, until we are all ready to fight for this Eden. Until all of us recognize that there truly is no difference between us, the fight for civil rights must, and is, continuing. Unfortunately, this also gives rise to an element that will fight for suppression, like the MAGA crowd that took over the Capitol building, fighting for hate, fighting for inequality, fighting for the rights of a few to suppress the rights of the rest.
I hope the rights of all of us win, or we will lose the rights of all.