Crimes of the King

January 2005


People are killed every day by their state. Some are killed in war. Some are executed as criminals. Some are innocent. Some are not. But there is a another kind of killing accomplished by the powerful in a society: assassination of the dangerous. When a charismatic leader even looks as if they might actually begin to make real progress against the aims of the status quo, they have the sad habit of winding up dead.

Martin Luther King was a great man. He was a great man because he saw beyond himself to a wider truth that touches everyone. This was not always so. He started as a local preacher, who fought for his friends and his community against very specific forms of violence, injustice, and oppression. He took a side and he fought for it. He was courageous. He was also kind.

His causes started out local and small. He didn't start out trying to change the world. He was born into a world of colored and white. He knew that world, and knew that it was wrong. It was wrong because it was unfair. It was wrong because it harmed the innocent. It was wrong because it preyed upon the weakest and most defenseless and profited only a tiny minority.

He was a great negotiator and story teller. He was a conciliator. He moved people to greatness by inspiring them to believe in themselves, in the fact that each person has the potential for greatness and for goodness. He believed that it only takes the right kind of gentle explanation and support to teach someone their own special path to greatness. People who had nothing, who were the youngest among whole generations of people deprived of justice, believed in the possibility of justice because he showed them how.

He worked for tangible, realizable goals. It was unfair and unkind that the working people in many communities had a daily reminder every day, to and from work, of their social and economic inferiority. The bus boycott wasn't about ending that social injustice -- it was about a little bit of dignity. Sometimes it is just that little bit of dignity that is all people need to be able to fight what they are afraid of. There were hard struggles, and many people sacrificed everything they had: their brothers, their sisters, and their children to the cause and proposition that they would live to see the coming of a new day, a better day.

As the movement for civil rights grew, he saw many of the ways in which it was bogged down in strife between people. He saw how hatred and fear are twin misfortunes and he learned that you can never banish fear with hatred -- it takes love. He was a black man who saw in himself the brother of every black man. And as he pondered this love that was the only certain cure for the evils of a society at war with everyone, even itself, he realized that he saw his brother in every white man, in every man of every color and every creed.

He realized, after so many battles, that there was only one People on planet earth and that the distinctions and divisions between them are arbitrary and artificial -- created mostly by the masters who run things for their own profit; created to keep people down and fighting against one another. He realized that we had no chance to effect real change until we dropped our struggles against our fellow people and turned to challenge the real enemy as one People.

But still, he was practical and sought to find ways of affecting realizable change. He spoke of the power of a free and democratic people to take the reins of power from the rich and mighty, and to use democracy as our tool to redistribute wealth more fairly, to take tax money away from war and the military and use those funds to help people in need. He spoke about the poor of every color having the same afflictions and the same oppressors. He said that when you can't earn enough to feed your children, the color of your children's skin makes no difference to their hunger. He warned us against growing fat on the misery and slavery of other nations, because that kind of greed formed a cancer within the body of the American people and it could destroy us.

He said that good people of conscience had a duty to God to end the cycle of poverty and oppression that resulted in homeless families and beggars on our streets -- both at home and abroad. He reminded people that there was no such thing as participating in an evil system just a little bit. He said that those who did were fooling themselves and ruining the world by perpetuating their own enslavement and ensuring the eventual enslavement of their own children.

And for the crime of being so manifestly correct, for the crime of recognizing so many of the big lies and calling them lies, for the crime of urging people to collective action to end oppression and inequality for all mankind, and especially for the crime of accepting all men and women on the planet as his brothers and sisters, he was killed. He was shot down in his prime. He was assassinated.

He saw us from his mountain top and said, come on up brothers and sisters, all of you, every one, come up and see the promised land that we can build together.

How ashamed he must feel, sitting up there in heaven with Jesus, looking down on us all -- knowing how we sold our souls for 30 pieces of tax cut, a nationally secure police state, and twice the unjust disparity between the powerful, wealthy few and the poor, powerless many as when he was with us alive.

"I honor my brother's memory by building in his name that which he would have built with his own hands, had not the tyrant struck him down. I cherish his memory by remembering his demand for freedom and by demanding nothing less than an equal measure of freedom for every man alive."

- Marcus Ptolenius, former slave and labor leader in Gaul, whose trade unions ended slavery in most of France for over 700 years.

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