Martin Luther King Jr. said the following at the Washington National Cathedral in March of 1968:
“I don’t like to predict violence, but if nothing is done between now and June to raise ghetto hope, I feel this summer will not only be as bad but worse than last year.”
Unfortunately, he was right. The year 1968 turned out to be one of the years of greatest turmoil in modern US history. The assassination of King – the assassination of Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy – the stifling heat of the inner-city ghettos, raised tension and diminished hope on the myriad minorities who had seen the progress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 but had yet to experience their promise. The country boiled to a breaking point as riots, protests, and violence dominated the summer.
In light of recent history (Ferguson, Baltimore) and the events of this past week (police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota and the murder of five policemen in Dallas), the summer of 2016 does not look promising. Further putting tension on alert is the contentious 2016 US presidential election cycle between Donald Trump (R) and Hillary Clinton (D).
People are angry. On both sides of the congressional aisle. People are angry. On both sides of the political spectrum.
With the Republican Convention right around the corner, one can only imagine the protests and confrontations which await Cleveland. Trump is certainly a polarizing figure, but that never justifies violence and law breaking.
Police departments around the country are on edge, and rightly so. It is difficult enough to be a policeman in this country, but the toxic environment in which we now live makes confrontation and misery to be the new norm. I’m sad to say, we probably haven’t seen the last loss of life this summer.
But in my estimation, what is ultimately more important for our democracy, is that we must not shrink away from robust political debate simply because someone might be offended and it might lead to violence. No. We need political debate more than ever in this country. We must stand absolutely against violence, intimidation, and the inflaming of the electorate. But we must also stand absolutely for our rights of freedom of speech, petition to address grievances, and the right to peacefully demonstrate.
We cannot allow the haters and inflamers – from both sides of the political spectrum – to hijack this election. We need calming, cooling heads of reason to win the day and push back against the violence. The calming voices are there, again on both sides.
I firmly believe that both political sides have more in common than everyone thinks. We all want an open society where we, all of us from every background, can live out our days in the pursuit of happiness. We all want police departments which function to protect all in society. We all want peace. We all want equality and a color-blind justice system. We all want the ability to rejoice in victory and mourn in defeat without having to worry about a violent push-back.
Let’s pray that in spite of the great many difficulties facing America this summer, that calmer heads and reasonable minds will emerge victorious, and the best of America will emerge out of the chaos.